A mainframe virgin comes to System z

IBM is celebrating over its latest mainframe win, BC Card, a large Korean credit card processor that dumped its distributed Compaq (HP) servers when it needed to upgrade its IT infrastructure. Instead it opted for three System z machines. IBM announced the deal in mid December.

The Register followed with a longer article in January.  I’m working on a more detailed case study to appear later this quarter.

For IBM, this win is an especially sweet victory in a number of ways:

  1. It is a new user to the System z, a mainframe virgin so to speak.
  2. BC Card is replacing its incumbent provider, Compaq/HP, which countered the IBM z offering by proposing its SuperDome as an alternative. HP along with Sun/Oracle are shaping up as IBM’s primary competition for the z.
  3. This win validates the IBM System z Solution Editions program. BC Card jumped at the Solution Editions program, which delivers a bundle of System z hardware, middleware, and software plus maintenance at a steeply discounted price.

In truth, BC Card isn’t exactly a mainframe virgin. Over a decade ago, the company had a Japanese mainframe, a plug-compatible. This was before the z/OS era so we’ll let IBM claim they are new to the System z if not exactly to mainframe computing. Along with the new hardware, BC Card is replacing Oracle with DB2 and adding WebSphere and CICS. Initially it will use the z to handle its mission-critical card authorization system and core processing. It also will embark on new development using WebSphere and CICS.

The end of 2009 turned out to be pretty good for System z wins actually. IBM announced a new mainframe deal with First National Bank of Namibia along with more successes in China. Also earlier in the year IBM announced other Korea successes.

Overall the System z appears to be doing surprisingly well in rapidly developing countries. For example, IBM reports an Indian commercial bank, Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited Bank committed to a $10m deal to create a credit card processing system based on the System z platform.  Businesses over there seem to be skipping the phase of building the infrastructure small at first with a handful on x86 servers and scaling out as necessary. Instead, they are jumping right to mainframes, spurred no doubt by IBM’s cost cutting.

Opting for your first System z is not an easy leap no matter how much IBM cuts the price. There remains a serious learning hurdle. Skilled mainframe people are not readily available in these parts of the world and demand for the few who are there is great. Intensive training for the existing staff was part of the BC Card plan from the start. Even staff that may remember the previous mainframe a decade earlier will have to be brought up to speed on today’s modern z.  Given that the company is not expecting to put the z in production for months they have time for thorough training.

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One Response to “A mainframe virgin comes to System z”

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