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An Eye Opener

The mainframe is entering new markets and encouraging new uses

The mainframe is entering new markets and encouraging new uses
Illustration by Sarah Howell

Mainframes are traditionally associated with specific industries running specific workloads, such as banking, insurance and government. That began to change, however, when IBM threw Linux* into the mix.

When that happened, corporations started reassessing their IT environments. They could now run not only mission-critical enterprise applications on their machines, but also smaller Linux workloads.

This created a synergy of sorts, with heavy-duty processing now being closely supported—within the same box—by other crucial and related applications. Today, it’s common for mainframe users to run both z/OS* and Linux OSs in tandem, and some organizations have even gone so far as to purchase mainframes to run in Linux-only mode, with virtualization acting as an administrative point of entry.

Inexpensive and Integrated

This change in mindset recently accelerated with the introduction of the IBM zEnterprise* family of System z* servers. They’ve piqued the interest of not only established mainframe customers, but also those who might never have considered them in the past. This is, in large part, because of the increasing flexibility of the mainframe, especially with the additional announcement of the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter* Extension (zBX).

“The beauty of the zEnterprise is that you can run industry-standard Linux directly on your box, on System x* servers and on the zBX, which will also soon support Windows* technology. This allows customers to run their workloads where they best fit, instead of being wedged into a specific platform,” says Yannick Barel, program director, IBM System z Global Sales.

As a result, both longtime and newbie mainframe users have more options than ever—including running and administering Linux and Windows technology as part of a hybrid environment on zEnterprise—at a price/performance point that’s hard to pass up. This is particularly true with the midrange zEnterprise 114 (z114), which has become appealing to both new industries (state and local government, universities, retail) and emerging markets in Asia and South America as they look for an inexpensive way to run and maintain multiple workloads on a single, tightly integrated system that offers availability, security and dynamic growth characteristics that set the bar for enterprise computing.

“What we’re seeing in emerging and growth markets is the consolidation of a lot of different workloads tied together to deliver a highly available, virtualized and secure infrastructure, all managed under a secured level of cloud-based provisioning model,” says Christian Reilly, IBM worldwide marketing manager for System z.

Both Large and Small

Many industry analysts have been predicting the demise of the mainframe for years, saying it’s too stodgy and closed for all but long-term hardcore users. But the numbers belie that. According to recent statistics, as noted by Barel, sales are actually increasing.

“Revenue from mainframes surged 61 percent in the second quarter of this year, capping the best four quarters of growth for this segment in five years,” he says. “This is partially driven by traditional mainframe clients—large banks, insurance companies and governments—rapidly adopting the new zEnterprise 196 (z196).”

He goes on to note that smaller companies, not typically associated with mainframe adoption, are also hopping on the bandwagon. This is in large part because they can run hundreds of workloads on a single system and have fewer resources to manage than in x86/VMware-based environments. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given the complexities involved in managing multiserver environments, as well as the skyrocketing costs (e.g., personnel and energy) associated with supporting them.

“We’ve done studies where users can consolidate the equivalent of 300 x86 boxes on a single z114—and that’s not even the high-end system,” Barel notes. “This is helping reduce your data-center space, your energy consumption and many of the issues surrounding systems management.

“Compare that to having to roll out hundreds of x86 servers onto the floor. Forget about maintaining them. You have to worry about keeping them up to date, about data downtime and all of the other challenges that come with those servers. That can create a drag on how well personnel can perform their duties and detract IT from giving the business an edge in today’s competitive marketplace.”

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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