IT Management

IT Sense:  The Never-Ending Campaign Season

By the time you read this, the 2010 U.S. mid-term election campaigns will be history. Most of us will be thankful that the vituperous TV and radio ads will have disappeared from the airwaves and we’re back to our normal diet of air-headed pitches for household cleaning products and breakfast cereals.

In the IT world, however, the battle for the hearts and minds of business decision-makers goes on. 

For some of the mainframers I talk to regularly, there’s a fear that, as the economy shows signs of improvement, old plans to abandon the mainframe will be dusted off by management and revisited as companies pursue their top goals of 2011: reducing IT cost, improving continuity capabilities, modernizing applications, and addressing the misalignment of business and IT that has taken hold in many companies. These goals were reaffirmed in a recent survey conducted by BMC Software.

As one would expect, the survey of roughly 1,500 IT folk provided a lot of “feel-good” data points, affirming the growth of mainframe workloads and MIPS usage on the platform. According to the survey, more than 50 percent of large IT shops are set to expand their use of specialty engines in the coming two years. And mainframes are, according to most respondents, pretty well-entrenched in their environments, with 94 percent claiming it remains a viable platform going forward (actually down a percentage point from the previous two years of the survey).

It was interesting reading the data points offered in the BMC research findings regarding cloud computing, the current darling of the technology trade press and its echo chamber in the tech pundit blogosphere. As IT priorities go, it was way down on the list, ranking just above green IT as a 2011 priority at 10 and 7 percent, respectively. This may reflect a bias among those who responded that isn’t necessarily shared by front-office decision-makers, many of whom seem to believe—rightly or not—that clouds (aka software as a service, infrastructure as a service) are exactly the hammer they’ve been seeking to pound down the IT budgetary nail.

What I really would have liked to have seen on the survey was a question about the potential appeal of specialty platforms, such as those showing up in Oracle advertisements in business magazines, that seek to offload databases from the mainframe. These ads strike me as highly political in terms of the audience they’re targeting (business people, not IT) and their content (claims about the superiority of an Oracle platform to an IBM System z mainframe in terms of performance, energy efficiency, cost, etc.). From where I’m sitting, IBM has yet to address this attack head-on, instead allowing Oracle to frame the debate. Not a good idea in any political campaign.

I doubt too many business leaders have taken the time to chat with Dennis Wunder, an executive IT specialist for Big Blue, to discuss the facts of the case, which fly in the face of Oracle’s claims—or rather, re-contextualize the debate from its tactical perspective (Oracle saying that databases perform better and have lower costs on their platform) to a more strategic one (IBM chips and architecture are designed to scale effortlessly, delivering better bang for the buck than stovepipe platforms as business needs change). Were this the case, the decision to prefer the IBM solution would be a no-brainer.

Bottom line: The electoral battles of 2010 may have drawn to a close, but the campaign season around mainframe computing is never-ending. As in all political campaigns, the outcome will be determined by those who get a vote (business management in the case of corporate IT), and their views need to be continually informed both by mainframe vendors and by mainframe operators who wish to demonstrate the business value of the platform now and in the future.