Mainframes Warming Up to the Cloud

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The Mainframe Rising

IBM's efforts to converge mainframe and distributed computing models remain a work in progress.

If, as the saying goes, what is old is new again, what does the future hold for the mainframe? Quite a lot, actually, considering everything we hold dear in virtual environments and the cloud - scalability, flexibility, logical partitioning - has been comfortably ensconced in big iron for decades.

The only odd thing is why it has taken so long for the industry to embrace the synergy between mainframes and the cloud. IBM, the last mainframe stalwart on the vendor side, only recently has decided to offer its considerable mainframe infrastructure as a cloud platform. The company recently announced that it will add System z mainframes to its SmartCloud platform for U.S. and UK customers later this year, offering basic processing, disk and tape capacity, Flashcopy and mirroring services and server image clustering for improved availability. Aside from the z/OS operating system, the package will support CICS transaction monitor, DB2 and IMS databases and WebSphere messaging and application servers.

At the same time, EMC has extended support for the System z on the Fast VP storage tiering system for the VMAX array. The combo is intended to foster private cloud deployment through improved performance and capacity coupled with the ability to pool storage across external arrays or simply manage them as pass-through devices. A key tool will be Fast VP's ability to handle mainframe count-key data (CKD) volumes, which deliver the scale and performance needed to support mainframe-based workloads and applications.

Mainframe software is also becoming more cloud-friendly, a nod to the fact that enterprises are having a tough time handling Big Data and other burgeoning requirements without the cloud. Compuware, for instance, recently upgraded its dynaTrace Enterprise application performance management (APM) platform with expanded visibility options for Hadoop and Cassandra environments, as well as across multiple cloud providers. The cloud, in fact, presents a unique opportunity for companies like Compuware in that distributed architectures present more I/O bottlenecks and other performance-limiting factors than traditional mainframes.

For many organizations, integrating mainframe architecture and the cloud is becoming a competitive necessity. As searchSOA.com's Jack Vaughan points out, increased numbers of Web customers and mobile users are pushing many platforms to their limits, even as demand for consistency, availability and partition tolerance (CAP) remains high. Some of the ways new software platforms are helping is through increased transaction isolation and reductions in XML data transmission.

For the still-considerable installed base of mainframe users out there, this is good news. Commodity infrastructure has proven quite adept at transitioning to the new cloud architectures, but mainframes represent too much raw power to be ignored.

As enterprises embrace both public and private clouds, those with vibrant mainframes at their disposal may find they have a leg up on those who don't.