What is the future of the IBM System z? That turned out to be the inadvertent topic of a long LinkedIn Mainframe Experts discussion thread—50 comments and still growing—that began by talking about the fight shaping up between IBM and NEON over zPrime and moved back and forth between the initial topic interwoven with discussions of old IBM platforms and of the future of the System z.
It is coming on 10 years since IBM renamed the System/390 as the zSeries. There has been buzz on the Internet for the past year about what the next mainframe will look like. Software Strategies references an upcoming z11 several times in a CPU-focused comparison of HP servers with the System z. IT Knowledge Exchange posted a blog item in Nov. about IBM ending z9 marketing in June and referenced a z11 coming a few months later. Others talk about the z11 offering a water cooled option. There is, however, nothing official to be found on IBM’s website even remotely confirming any of this, except the end of marketing the z9.
Still, IBM does need something to boost the System z offering in the face of the increased performance and low price of the newest x86-based systems. Short of rolling out a new mainframe architecture powered by a hot new chip IBM appears to be starting 2010 pursuing two mainframe strategies: 1) slash the cost of mainframe acquisition through System z Solution Editions and 2) adopt a more accommodating product marketing approach called Fit for Purpose.
The IBM System z Solution Editions certainly are welcome. They lower the cost of acquiring a System z by bundling the necessary hardware, software, and middleware to do real business work into a reduced price package with several years of maintenance included. IBM offers a handful of Solution Editions for BI, CRM, cloud, data warehousing, and more. Additional Solution Editions will likely be forthcoming. If you can qualify, this gets you another System z cheap.
The Fit for Purpose strategy addresses situations where the mainframe may not be right for a given situation. Rather it guides organizations to choose the (IBM) platform—mainframe, Unix, blade, x86—best suited to the workload, situation, skills, and budget.
Linux on z greatly expands the workloads that can be run on the z, including Web apps, BI, and even, in theory anyway, Microsoft .NET apps (via SUSE Linux on z with Mono). OpenSolaris on z can expand the z’s workload universe even more. Mantissa’s v/OS promises to put Windows apps on the z eventually.
In a Fit for Purpose briefing early in the summer, however, IBM emphasized the mainframe for large scale transaction processing and databases. Other workload categories, such as business applications, analytics, and Web it steered to UNIX/AIX, and Windows. Huh?
Granted IBM sells x86 and POWER-based platforms too, however, this seems unnecessarily limiting the z. I’ve already profiled organizations that are using their System z to support social networking, BI, Web applications, and mobile computing. Each has built a strong business case around it. Not every workload is suitable for the z, but surely when IBMers talk about Fit for Purpose they can look beyond large scale transaction processing. The mainframe in the future will do a lot more than that. It already does.