Fifty is the New Forty: The Mainframe Keeps Up with the Times

If you’re worried about the mainframe falling out of fashion — or at least aging itself out of the market — no need.

IBM is doing its level best to keep up with the times by appealing to the younger (and at least perceived hipper) open source crowd. And, of course, the cloud crowd too.

A dozen years ago IBM did what many thought was counter-intuitive by enabling Linux on System z. Now, with nearly half of its new mainframe customer’s Linux shops, that move, in hindsight, has proved almost prescient. Fast-forward to July of this year and the company has done another major Linux refresh with the acquisition of Computing Solutions Leaders, or CSL International and the introduction of a new System z box.

IBM’s purchase of CSL is perhaps not a surprising one for those members that attended SHARE Boston earlier this month. Sharon Chen, CSL’s CEO, presented at a session that described the architecture and implementation of CSL-WAVE as an advanced z/VM systems management solution.

According to IBM, the acquisition of CSL expands its capabilities for cloud computing by providing the ability to move workloads from one server to another using simplified virtualization technology.   For those that are wondering, this capability does indeed exploit the functionality of IBM’s Live Guest Migration, announced in 2011. What it does is visualize a cluster and enable a drag and drop method of moving images between virtual machines.  In simpler words, CSL-WAVE abstracts the management of Live Guest Relocation and adds graphical visualization and management to the existing function.

The CSL-WAVE software helps users monitor and manage their z/VM and Linux on System z environments using a fairly intuitive user interface. The combination of System z and CSL will help users to manage all aspects of z/VM and Linux on System z virtualization, including CPU, memory, storage and network resources.

What this means, essentially, is that users will be able to build private clouds faster and more easily using CSL-WAVE and Linux on System z.

TechTarget’s 2013 IT Priorities Survey offers some perspective on what organizations are thinking about when it comes to virtualization and cloud computing. Nearly 80% of TechTarget’s 739 survey respondents said that they plan to expand their server virtualization deployments over the next 12 months. At the same time, 20 percent of respondents said they have implemented a private cloud — 13 percent said they implemented a hybrid cloud — and among 335 respondents, about 86 percent said they would assemble their own private cloud in the next 12 months. The remaining 14.5 percent said they would use a dedicated system for their private cloud.

This is where IBM’s latest lower-priced System z offering may come into play.

The zEnterprise BC12 has a starting price of $75,000, for a one-core configuration, with the ability to expand up to thirteen core loads — scalability that enables IT shops to grow their environment as their workload grows. The new BC12 is designed to run Linux workloads faster and is targeted at — you guessed it — cloud computing. And big data analytics. Both of which are part of IBM’s mantra for the future that also includes mobile and social-enabling technologies.

In a recent article, TechTarget had this to say about the mainframe’s most recent refresh, particularly the introduction of the BC12:

Some analysts aren't completely surprised by the System Z's mini-resurgence, given IBM's attempts to make the line more relevant to younger administrators through tighter connections to Linux and the open source community.

The system's lower price point, coupled with the redoubled focus on Linux, could also bring new appeal to smaller IT shops that had been priced out of the mainframe market. It will also help IBM compete in emerging markets such as Africa where local programming and management talent are more Linux-oriented, Bozman said.

Even as it approaches its 50th birthday next year, IBM says its venerable mainframe has been seeing a tremendous increase in clients running new workloads including cloud, big data, and mobile computing on Linux on System z.

Then again, fifty is the new forty, right?

"As clients create smarter computing environments, they are looking for ways to manage IT costs and complexity without sacrificing security or the ability to scale," said Greg Lotko, IBM business line executive, System z. “The response by clients to the advantages of Linux on System z have been tremendous, with the shipped capacity nearly doubling in 1Q13 year to year. With the acquisition of CSL International, IBM expands its cloud virtualization capabilities, making it even easier for clients to take advantage of Linux on System z." 

Following the CSL acquisition, Seeking Alpha asked, ‘Will [the] CSL acquisition improve IBM?” The answer seems to be a yes, for both IBM and users:

It comes as no surprise that IBM agreed to acquire CSL International for IBM's zEnterprise system. Clients wanted to take advantage of Linux on system zEnterprise, but they were constrained by technical issues and cost. This need forced IBM into looking for solutions. CSL was a leading provider of virtualization management technology for IBM and could provide answers.

But don’t discount the competition, says Seeking Alpha:

IBM's closest peers are Microsoft, Accenture, and Hewlett Packard. But can IBM outpace them? Microsoft and Cisco recently announced a partnership to provide private cloud solutions to help public companies rapidly increase their number of users. Microsoft is also working with Cisco to stimulate hundreds of private cloud and hybrid cloud deployments worldwide. If Microsoft becomes prominent in the virtualization management sector, it will certainly hurt IBM.

There is no doubt that businesses will pay for a much improved zEnterprise system. Accenture wants to frustrate this possibility. It recently pledged to invest more than $400 million in cloud capabilities to help clients implement digital technologies. The move will also enable clients to get the most business value from the cloud computing sector. With Accenture's new initiative, it has the potential to slow IBM's growth in the enterprise sector.

Hewlett-Packard is also progressing in its cloud computing ambitions. The company is shifting its focus to the high margin cloud computing space. It recently witnessed some wins in emerging markets like Brazil, Russia, India, and China. With an improved zEnterprise System in the market, Hewlett-Packard could find it more difficult to convert customers to its cloud solutions.

Time will tell how this market plays out. But in the meantime, it appears the mainframe is keeping up, just fine.





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