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The Mainframe Lives On

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Listen up, boys and girls, the mainframe is not dead; in fact, it’s very much alive. Every few years, the “experts” predict the mainframe is on its last legs and will be taken over by the technology du jour.

Don’t yet the naysayers fool you, with sales up and software development continuing, the mainframe is far from dead.

That replacement technology has ranged over the years from client-server computing to Web-based computing. For a while now it’s been cheap, commodity x86-based servers. Don’t believe a word of it — mainframe sales have begun climbing again.

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IDC analyst Steve Josselyn told he expects IBM’s worldwide mainframe revenue to grow 4 percent this year. That doesn’t sound like much until you realize Big Blue reaped $4.6 billion from worldwide mainframe sales in 2007.

Admittedly, that was somewhat shy of the $5.2 billion IBM chalked up for 2006, but consider that the z10 was rolled out in early 2008, 24 months after the previous mainframe product instead of the 12 to 18 month release cycle.

Savvy customers that could hang on instead of upgrading sent IBM mainframe sales falling in the second half of 2007 because they decided to wait until the new product was released, Josselyn said.

“Nobody wants to buy at the end of a product cycle and have the residual value tank when the new model comes out,” he explained. The result was a surge in demand this year, Josselyn said.

IBM Distinguished Engineer Jim Porell said demand for mainframes has gone up because the mainframe has more capacity, is more powerful and its electricity consumption is relatively low.

Mainframes “have 64-bit processors and 384 power processors, which do I/O processing; they have cryptography, compression and network engines on board, all of which are redundant, and they have spare mainframe engines,” he said. “All this comes as part of the mainframe.”

A mainframe’s capacity is large enough that it enables massive consolidation, which helps slash costs. According to Porell, one IBM customer redeployed 800 Linux, Windows and Unix boxes on 26 of the 64 cores of a z10 mainframe, leading to “a tremendous saving in software licensing costs, power, cooling and space.”

Further, one z10 mainframe consumes about the same amount of electricity as a rack of blade servers, according to Porell. “We have all kinds of monitors and automation around energy consumption and management,” he added.

Enhanced Software Options

That increased demand has led CA enhance its mainframe management software for IBM’s z/OS, z/VSE and z/VM platforms. These products, announced at the SHARE conference and trade show, being held in San Jose, Calif. through Friday, will improve z/OS management, z/VSE tape management, and z/VM directory management.

“It’s a very competitive market in mainframe management tools,” CA senior vice president and general manager of mainframe products Mark Combs told “It’s a growing business for us, and we see a resurgence in the mainframe.”

CA’s announcement is, in addition to being “another recognition of the mainframe’s resurgence,” a bid to stave off competition from IBM, which has brought out new tools of its own for its z10 series of mainframes, Wayne Kernochan, president of analyst firm Infostructure Associates, told

Kernochan said that the growth in demand for the mainframe has led IBM to enhance its own mainframe administrative tools in two ways. One is through incorporating features from, or integrating with, Linux platforms. The other is through adding to its collection of tools for the z/OS operating system.

That, in turn, “encourages CA to stay differentiated with new features of its own in both areas,” Kernochan explained.

It’s a civilized form of bare-knuckle brawling, really. The announcements are “to reinforce the fact that CA has a very coherent mainframe strategy,” CA’s Combs said. “We are number one or number two in 10 of the 12 areas where we compete, and IBM is then either number two or number one,” he added.

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