IT Management

To quote the oft-quoted Mark Twain, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” It is a hackneyed refrain but, nonetheless, describes the current physiology of the bits and bytes of CMOS technology that compose the heart and soul of the S/390 Enterprise System Server—the mainframe. To some, the mainframe may conjure up nostalgic visions of a time long ago when systems programmers roamed a computing landscape of refrigerated, raised-floor, maximum-security rooms with large, tape-whirring, light-flashing computers and ruled through cryptic technological jargon that left mere business managers in awe. To others, the mainframe may represent an outdated monolith; emblematic of a decade dominated by disco, Watergate, and Bob Dylan. These people may feel that the mainframe is old, clunky, and seemingly useless in the hustling, bustling “enterprise” world of Unix, Windows, and Web servers—the so-called real technologies of today.

To the modern-day CIO, however, the mainframe does not fit any of these colorful characterizations. It is not considered obsolete or outdated. The CIO may view the mainframe as the intrinsic heart and soul of the computing enterprise, or it may merely serve as another important piece of the company’s infrastructure— just as important as its Unix, Windows, and Web servers. The mainframe computing system (a.k.a. MVS, z/OS, S/390, zSeries Enterprise Server, “Big Blue”) is an evolutionary component of a complex computing environment that services the worldwide data processing business needs of today’s largest corporations.

Given the longevity, adaptability, and resilience of this brilliantly conceived technological organism, perhaps we need to further explore the vital role that the mainframe plays in most modern-day, enterprise computing systems.


First, let’s dispel a few anthropological myths. There are no distributed enterprise systems. There are no mainframe enterprise systems. There are only enterprise systems. And enterprise systems are complex, heterogeneous, and unruly. Like an unruly child, enterprises must be managed. To effectively ensure business service availability (performance, reliability, and security), the enterprise must be managed as a holistic entity—not as a discrete set of arms and legs. This paradigm demands that we provide infrastructure, service, and application management across the computing enterprise, not merely on the computing platforms.

The mainframe still plays a critical role in enterprise computing, and there are many reasons why it will continue to do so. The mainframe is host to more than 50 percent of the world’s mission-critical data. The mainframe operating system has matured and evolved for more than 40 years, making it a mature adult, especially compared to the distributed- based Unix and Windows operating systems. With this maturity comes stalwart availability. IBM estimates mainframe availability at 99.999 percent. An image may fail, but a full reboot (IPL) of a mainframe-computing complex is rarely necessary except in development, testing, or maintenance modes. Unix is also a very stable system, but just think about how often you have to reboot your PC or Web servers in a year.

With this maturity comes safety. How many articles do you read about cyber thieves hacking into a mainframe? Most of these criminals have probably never heard of SAF, RACF, or the S/390 Cryptographic Coprocessor, and they almost certainly do not speak EBCDIC. The sophistication of mainframe security solutions has evolved over the past 30 years. In addition, the prevailing history of the rest of the so-called real technologies has been to ignore and disavow the mainframe, rather than integrate with it. As a result, the sheltered accessibility to the mainframe today allows it to enjoy tighter, more stringent security measures in the world of cyber crime. However, the mainframe does offer accessibility through open application program interfaces (APIs), and these APIs were developed within the context of security, not with security as an afterthought.

The mainframe is home to the traditional (or so-called “legacy”) applications that drive many of the business processes that we, as consumers, interact with on a daily basis. It is the back-end data store for much of the point-of-sale, cash-dispensing, Web-based transactions that populate worldwide commerce today. It would be sheer folly to dismiss the importance of the mainframe’s role as an atavistic processor of legacy-based applications.

Giga Information Group, Inc. reports that, in 1998, 75 percent of the mainframe computing power shipped to customers was utilized to process increased capacity demands from traditional application systems. Last year, only 40 percent of newly shipped mainframe computing power was in support of capacity upgrades. By 2004, Giga estimates that the trend will be a complete transposition of 1998, wherein 75 percent of all newly shipped mainframe-computing power will be in support of new application workloads. These new workloads are represented by mainframe deployment of WebSphere, WebLogic, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Siebel applications. Additionally, according to Gartner, as IBM has pushed for adoption of Linux on the mainframe, MIPS shipments in support of Linux are up 45 percent year-over-year, and IBM claims that 17 percent of its mainframe revenue was generated from Linux.


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