Bill Carico talks with Ernie Fernandez, vice president, System Sales, IBM Americas. Ernie responds to questions about some common customer concerns and provides insight regarding IBM’s commitment to the mainframe.
z/Journal: Having multiple server lines is expensive and people speculate that IBM will eventually consolidate. How committed is IBM to the mainframe long-term?
Ernie Fernandez: IBM has redoubled its commitment to the mainframe, as evidenced by the recent introduction of the System z9. We invested $1.2 billion over three years to build the System z9. Why? Because the mainframe is the top-selling server in the $250K+ space, had double-digit revenue growth last year, and powers the leading banks and financial institutions in the world. With the Systems agenda, you will see the role of the mainframe expanded to include important enterprisewide roles in security, availability, and workload management.
z/Journal: For our readers who may have missed it, would you briefly tell us about the Systems agenda?
EF: Sure. The IBM Systems agenda for On-Demand Business was announced by Bill Zeitler on July 26. It’s a set of guiding principles to focus the investments of all IBM’s server brands. At a high level, the three guiding principles are: virtualize everything, commit to open standards, and collaborate to innovate. The goal is to simplify the management of the IT infrastructure, realizing our customers have multiple server operating systems installed. Specifically to System z9, the role of the mainframe will be to leverage its core strengths: security, Workload Management (WLM), parallel sysplex, Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS), and data serving. This is not just a catchy theme for these announcements. We’re all going to be hearing a lot about the Systems agenda in years to come.
z/Journal: What are some of the more noteworthy features of the new System z9 technology?
EF: Certainly, the increase in raw capacity, delivered in a balanced way, is noteworthy. The engines are faster, the number of engines has increased from 32 to 54, memory size has doubled, cryptographic performance has tripled for some applications, and I/O throughput is greater. And there have been other advancements. One of the more interesting advancements is a feature we call concurrent book removal. In System z9 terminology, a book is the packaging unit that houses the processors and memory. In a properly configured system, we now allow a book to be removed and reinstalled without taking an outage or impacting performance. This is like replacing one of the engines on a jet while the plane is flying at 30,000 feet, maintaining altitude and speed, without the passengers noticing a change took place. It’s also an excellent example of how IBM builds upon each generation while adding enhancements. So the z9 keeps the key features of the z990, the z900, and all the CMOS generations from G1 to G6, and code compatibility going back to the S/360, yet it also provides innovations not found on any other commercial server.
z/Journal: What’s your take on the shortage of professionals with mainframe skills? Customers certainly want to know now if they will be able to find the skilled professionals to staff their data centers several years down the road.
EF: IBM recognized this concern several years ago and building community became one of the three legs of the Mainframe Charter, which we announced in 2003. The Mainframe Charter is a framework to guide our future investments as we continue to develop innovative technology, increase customer value and expand the mainframe’s community to give our customers wider application choice and greater access to skills. The progress to date on building the mainframe’s community has been encouraging, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. For example, last week I had lunch with a dean from Mexico’s largest university, who informed me they are planning to re-introduce mainframes into their technology curriculum. He was visiting our briefing center in Poughkeepsie and Marist College, which has been an innovator in creating and delivering mainframe classes. In addition, as Linux becomes more mainstream, it will bring a whole new set of resources to the mainframe. At IBM, we have begun hiring from colleges and universities in a program we call “vitality hires.” These new IBM’ers go through a rigorous mainframe training program and then join our technical support teams under the tutelage of a mentor. At the recent SHARE conference in Boston, IBM and SHARE announced an initiative to bring new people into the fold. So, while it’s one of the issues we need to address, much work has been done in the last few years with more to come.
z/Journal: How do you personally respond when a customer complains to you about software pricing levels and the complexity of software licenses?