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Avi Rosenthal

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IBM z-Enterprise First Take: Data Center In a Box or Cloud Computing

I started my career in the seventies, working as a programmer for a Governmental Service Bureau providing service to most of the public sector organizations in my country. We used IBM 360 Mainframes with MVT Operating System.
The V did not stand for Virtual (There was no Virtual Storage support), but stood for Variable, because it was an Operating System capable of managing Variable length partitions.
MVT predecessor was SVS (Single Virtual Storage) followed by MVS (Multiple Virtual Storages).  
MVS is the basis for current Mainframe Operating Systems.  It was extended on 1995 and branded OS/390, which was replaced by current Mainframe z/OS Operating System.

In the 1990s many people believed that "the Mainframe is dead".
However, the Mainframe is still a valuable and profitable asset for IBM used by most of the large enterprises.

On July 22 2010, IBM announced the new z-Enterprise system, which is actually a Data Center in a Box, The new z-Enterprise computers supports Mainframe systems (including Linux on Mainframe), AIX servers and Intel based Windows servers.  All systems share common Management implemented by firmware.

The new announcement, described by IBM as "The revolutionary new design of the zEnterprise System", may extend the Mainframe platform era for additional years.

Mainframes Strengths and Considerations
The IT industry is standardizing on Intel based Servers and Desktops with Windows or Linux Operating Systems.
This trend implies the following considerations and challenges to all Mainframes (regardless of manufacturer):
  • Relatively higher hardware costs in comparison to Intel based servers.

The gap in price between Intel based Servers and Mainframes  is increased systematically because the reduction rate of Intel based Servers price is greater than the reduction rate of Mainframes hardware prices.
  • Lack of Software products - Most of the products are developed for the most frequently used platforms and only some of them are ported to Mainframes.

  • Lack of young experts - Most of the young professionals prefer to specialize in the hottest or mainstream technologies and not in Mainframe technology.

Mainframes strengths include:
  • Higher Availability
  • Extended Scalability
If the Data Center serves many thousands of online users running complex transactions, probably it is beyond the capabilities of standard servers and a Mainframe should take care of it.
  • Security
Few years ago I executed a Penetration Test to a banking institute using Mainframe. I noticed that you cannot breach the password mechanisms by downloading a program from the Web. However, I found some free programs for breaching Windows password mechanisms.
  • Batch

Mainframes where built for executing massive Batch workloads.
But the gap between Mainframes and standard platforms is narrowing consistently, as the standard systems evolve.

Why IBM's Mainframes are still executing Mission Critical work while most of other Mainframes phased out?  
Due to the considerations cited above most Mainframes platforms usage is declining, but IBM's Mainframes usage is still a viable option, at least for large enterprises.
According to a Web page I read approximately 40% of IBM's profits are Mainframe profits (Let's assume that the source may be wrong and unreliable and the real figure is half of the cited number, it is still a significant revenues source).
The secrets of IBM's Mainframe long period of market presence are based on two main factors:

1. It is very difficult and costly to migrate to another platform
In order to migrate you have to redevelop or re-host the applications, replace or re-train the IT staff and to acquire and assimilate new hardware and software products. If the migrated Enterprise is a Very Large Enterprise (VLE) it will be almost impossible to justify it from business point of view.
"If it is not broken do not fix it"
Many migration attempts failed or required more resources and time than planned for executing the migration process.
IBM's mainframe pricing models always favored large enterprises, so the TCO after the migration could be higher than the Tco before it for VLE's.  The Service Level could be lower than before the migration.
An alternative way to migrate from IBM Mainframe is by adopting SOA. After transforming the enterprise to SOA, it is possible to migrate Services transparently and gradually to other platforms, but moving to SOA is a long journey and even longer in case that most of your applications are old Legacy Mainframe systems.

2. Platform Adaptability (Agility)
Agility looks like a wrong term for describing Mainframes, however Agility is about Change according to Business Changes. It is also true that Agility implies quick changes and although IBM's Mainframe platform is adapting usually it does not adapt quickly.
The following list describes some Mainframe platform adaptive changes in a nutshell:
  • Partitioning and Virtualization in order to enable multi logical Operating Systems on a single machine.
  • UNIX on Mainframe – The standalone version failed and afterwards UNIX System Services (USS) where added to z/OS operating system
  • Windows NT on Mainframe build by third party Bristol Software) but was not a success story
  • JEE on MainframeSupporting Java on Mainframes required many Hardware and Software changes, in order to fit Java into the z/OS Resource Management and Workload mechanisms, for example the Garbage Collection algorithm was totally changed.
  • z/Linux RedHat Linux and SuSe Linux on mainframe. It is possible to implement Linux instances by sharing a machine with z/OS systems or on a dedicated cheaper Mainframe.

  • Support for SAP ERP and other applications on Mainframe.
  • SOA on Mainframe as well as on other platforms
MY Take
Cloud Computing is widening the costs gap between standard platforms and tools and Legacy systems and platforms due to Elasticity and reduced Complexity and reduced Management requirements. However, currently it is more attractive to SMB's and relatively small enterprises. It is more attractive for non Core applications such as CRM, e-mail and HR. Large Enterprises are reluctant to place their business critical applications and servers on the Cloud, due to Maturity, Psychological issues and Security issues.

z-Enterprise is an alternative  approach for cutting costs and reducing Complexity targeted for Large Enterprises. Clearly its users are Locked In IBM Mainframe, other IBM platforms and IBM's products. For example, your UNIX platform must be IBM's AIX and not competitor like Oracle/Sun who also tries to Lock you In its own platform (see previous posts:  Oracle-Sun Hardware: Easy to Say and Hard to do – Oracle's Exadata2,  The Future of IT according to Oracle). 
But is it really anti-Cloud alternative?  For the Short Term it is, but for the Long Term the number of Cloud providers will be decreased and in addition to players like Amazon and Google, we may find IBM offering z-Enterprise Cloud services to relatively small Mainframe shops, AIX shops and even to large Mainframe shops. It may resemble in some aspects Microsoft's Azure which is designated for Microsoft's platform and tools users.

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More Stories By Avi Rosenthal

Ari has over 30 years of experience in IT across a wide variety of technology platforms, including application development, technology selection, application and infrastructure strategies, system design, middleware and transaction management technologies and security.

Positions held include CTO for one of the largest software houses in Israel as well as the CTO position for one of the largest ministries of the Israeli government.