For Energy Savings, Consider a Mainframe

In a briefing with internetnews.com, Jim Stallings, general manager of IBM's System z business, said IBM is determined to overcome what he describes as misconceptions about the mainframe (e.g., it's too expensive and hard to maintain) and to publicize its lesser known advantages (saving on energy costs and being a platform for growth). IBM is positioning its mainframe as the best alternative to server sprawl.

"Big companies hoping to run their infrastructure on x86 servers have found out that as they grow, it's not practical," said Stallings.

"The [x86] technology is there, but it's more expensive to run thousands of small servers than a mainframe," Stallings continued. "And what about data security? Zero downtime? These are areas the mainframe has big advantages."

Stallings said IBM is ready to move aggressively to try and win business from server makers HP and Sun with specific commitments to migrate their systems and save them money.

"Most companies don't want to become an IT factory with servers all over the place," said Stallings. "What we're saying is the mainframe can be the factory."

While IBM has had its main success selling to existing mainframe customers, Stallings said the company is in its best position ever to go after new customers, particularly with its new System z business class systems that are priced starting at $100,000.

Businesses as diverse as financial services company Nexxar Group and the Brazil-based Hoplon online multiplayer game company have bought in.

Nexxar is consolidating more than 80 x86 servers onto IBM's z9 mainframe running Linux. The company sees the mainframe move helping its growth-through-acquisition strategy.

"When we need to add a virtual Linux image on the IBM System z9, it's as simple as 'cutting and pasting'," Wim De Ridder, managing director and CIO of Nexxar, said in a statement earlier this year.

"By contrast, in the x86 world, we would have to add a whole new physical server, plus the software, networking and attendant maintenance."

In the case of startup Hoplon, the company is tapping IBM's Managed Hosting Services rather than purchase the mainframe.

"Hosting lets us grow at our own pace, in a more comfortable way, without having to make large up-front commitments," said Hoplon CEO Teles Tarquinio.

With access to IBM's zSeries, Hoplon said it can create new virtual machines on demand, scaling rapidly and dynamically as needed to accommodate the shifting needs of users.

IBM also offers its mainframe buyers specialized processors designed to speed performance as needed. One, the zAAP processor is designed to speed up Java applications.

And earlier this year IBM introduced the System z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), designed to accelerate data processing loads associated with customer relationship management, ERP, and business intelligence computing tasks.

On the energy savings side, at least one analyst agrees with Stallings assessment.

"Every CIO I've spoken to who operates a large data center has told me that the mainframe is now the coolest, most efficient device in their data center," said Jerald Murphy, director of research operations for Robert Frances Group.

In a recent RFG research report, Murphy said, "No other platform has clearly demonstrated the vertical scaling (scaling up) savings as the mainframe. IT can consistently achieve the highest utilization rates, and hardware/software costs go down as the processing capacity increases."

Comments like that are surely music to IBM's ears. But the mainframe, even as IBM strives to reestablish its value and niche, isn't about to retake the computing world.

It's still easier for most companies, that don't need all of the mainframe's capabilities, to build incrementally with lower cost servers.

IBM's biggest near-term opportunity may be in emerging markets, where companies aren't so much supplementing but building their first computing infrastructure.

"That's why we announced the z9 in Beijing, where there are 8 million small businesses," said Stallings.

Not surprisingly, familiar competitors HP, Sun and others are also going after those markets.

Stallings said he loves it when competitors tout features like virtualization, a hallmark of mainframes for years.

"Virtualization is a new model for them and the technology is just getting mature on those platforms," he said.

"But we've had it for decades because the mainframe was designed as a corporate computer from the beginning for multiple users with partitioning and the virtualization is built into the OS. We don't need separate virtualization for storage and workloads."

This article was originally published on internetnews.

This article was originally published on Aug 30, 2006
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