How the 50 Year-Old Mainframe Remains Relevant

The mainframe turns 50 years old this year and the many pundits and experts who predicted it would be long gone by now must be scratching their heads.  Yes, it is still around and has acquired over 260 new accounts just since zEnterprise launch. It also has shipped over 320 hybrid computing units (not to be confused with zBX chassis only) since the zBX was introduced and kicked off hybrid mainframe computing.

As for MIPS, although IBM experienced a MIPS decline last quarter that follows the largest MIPS shipment in mainframe history a year ago resulting in a 2-year CGR of +11%.  (Mainframe sales follow the new product release cycle in a predictable pattern.) IBM brought out the last System z release, the zEC12, faster than the mainframe’s historic release cycle. Let’s hope IBM repeats the quick turnaround with the next release.

Here’s what IBM is doing to keep the mainframe relevant:

  • Delivered steady price/performance improvements with each release. And with entry-level BC-class pricing and the System z Solution Edition programs you can end up with a mainframe system that is as competitive or better than x86-based systems while being more secure and more reliable out of the box.
  • Adopted Linux early, before it had gained the widespread acceptance it has today. Last year over three-quarters of the top 100 enterprises had IFLs installed. This year IBM reports a 31% increase in IFL MIPS. In at least two cases where DancingDinosaur recently interviewed IT managers, Linux on z was instrumental in bringing their shops to the mainframe.
  • Supported for SOA, Java, Web services, and cloud, mobile, and social computing continues to put the System z at the front of the hot trends. It also prominently plays with big data and analytics.  Who ever thought that the mainframe would be interacting with RESTful APIs? Certainly not DancingDinosaur’s computer teacher back in the dark ages.
  • Continued delivery of unprecedented scalability, reliability, and security at a time when the volumes of transactions, data, workloads, and users are skyrocketing.  (IDC predicts millions of apps, billions of users, and trillions of things connected by 2020.)
  • Built a global System z ecosystem of tools and technologies to support cloud, mobile, big data/analytics, social and non-traditional mainframe workloads. This includes acquisitions like SoftLayer and CSL Wave to deliver IBM Wave for z/VM, a simplified and cost effective way to harness the consolidation capabilities of the IBM System z platform along with its ability to host the workloads of tens of thousands of commodity servers. The mainframe today can truly be a fully fledged cloud player.

And that just touches on the mainframe platform advantages. While others boast of virtualization capabilities, the mainframe comes 100% virtualized out of the box with virtualization at every level.  It also comes with a no-fail redundant architecture and built-in networking. 

Hybrid computing is another aspect of the mainframe that organizations are just beginning to tap.  Today’s multi-platform compound workloads are inherently hybrid, and the System z can manage the entire multi-platform workload from a single console.

The mainframe anniversary celebration, called Mainframe50, officially kicks off in April but a report from the Pulse conference suggests that Mainframe50 interest already is ramping up. A report from Pulse 2014 this week suggests IBM jumped the gun by emphasizing how the z provides new ways never before thought possible to innovate while tackling challenges previously out of reach.

Pulse 2014, it turns out, offered 38 sessions on System z topics, of which 27 will feature analysts or IBM clients. These sessions promise to address key opportunities and challenges for today’s mainframe environments and the latest technology solutions for meeting them, including OMEGAMON, System Automation, NetView, GDPS, Workload Automation Tivoli Asset Discovery for z/OS and Cloud.

One session featured analyst Phil Murphy, Vice President and Principal Analyst from Forrester Research, discussing the critical importance of a robust infrastructure in a mixed mainframe/distributed cloud environment—which is probably the future most DancingDinosaur readers face—and how it can help fulfill the promise of value for cloud real time.

Another featured mainframe analyst Dot Alexander from Wintergreen Research who looked at how mainframe shops view executing cloud workloads on System z. The session focused on the opportunities and challenges, private and hybrid cloud workload environments, and the impact of scalability, standards, and security.

But the big celebration is planned for April 8 in NYC. There IBM promises to make new announcements, launch new research projects, and generally focus on the mainframe’s future.  A highlight promises to be Showcase 20, which will focus on 20 breakthrough areas referred to by IBM as engines of progress.  The event promises to be a sellout; you should probably talk to your System z rep if you want to attend. And it won’t stop on April 8. IBM expects to continue the Mainframe50 drumbeat all year with new announcements, deliverables, and initiatives. Already in February alone IBM has made a slew of acquisitions and cloud announcements that will touch every mainframe shop with any cloud interests (which should be every mainframe shop at one point or another).

In coming weeks stay tuned to DancingDinosaur for more on Mainframe50. Also watch this space for details of the upcoming Edge 2014 conference, with an emphasis on infrastructure innovation coming to Las Vegas in May.

Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog

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  1. One week to Mainframe50—Be There Virtually | DancingDinosaur Says:

    […] in February, DancingDinosaur started writing about the upcoming Mainframe50 celebration. Well, we’re just one week away from what be a nearly year-long on celebration, introductions of […]

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