The Mainframe Rising
IBM's efforts to converge mainframe and distributed computing models remain a work in progress.
It's been just about a year since IBM first introduced the z/Enterprise mainframe, which was intended to reinvigorate the venerable mainframe platform by delivering, among other innovations, the industry's fastest 5.2Ghz processor.
Now a new worldwide survey of 1,347 mainframe customers, conducted by BMC Software, a provider of systems management tools for both mainframe and distributed computing environments, finds that IBM is creating a considerable amount of mainframe momentum around the z/Enterprise platform.
Beyond addressing pent-up demand for additional processing horsepower, a significant part of the newfound momentum for the mainframe appears to be tied to IBM's skillful use of "specialty engine" pricing. IBM has created special offers for running certain types of workloads, such as Java or Linux, on the mainframe that make it very attractive for IT organizations to run these applications on mainframes they already own versus having to buy additional dedicated hardware. As a result, as much as 25 percent of the new workloads on the mainframe are running Linux and Java has become the fastest growing programming language on the mainframe platform.
Bill Miller, president of mainframe service management for BMC, says this all reflects a desire on the part of IT organizations that have mainframes to cut costs without having to move existing applications to a new system, or deploy new applications on new platforms that they would then have to manage alongside their existing mainframe.
In fact, the success of IBM's specialty engine strategy may be a contributing factor in the relatively mild interest the survey found in the z/Enterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) servers that IBM created to more tightly couple mainframe and distributed computing environments. A z/BX can be based on a Power Series server running AIX or Linux, or an X-Series X86 server running Linux or Windows. While IBM has been shipping the Power Series servers, the X86 blade servers for the z/BX mainframe extensions running Linux only recently started shipping. The Windows version is expected to ship later this year. Miller, however, says that given the strength of X86 vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell in the enterprise, an IBM-centric approach to convergence might not ever gain traction with all the internal IT politics involved.
In the meantime, all signs point to continuing mainframe momentum, especially in the wake of a new low-end z114 offering that is priced starting at $75,000. But the question will be, to what degree will IBM to be able to leverage that momentum to drive its campaign to converge computing platforms once it's really able to deliver X86 server blades that can be managed under the same management framework as the mainframe.