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There may also be tangible differences in uptime, though metrics in this area may not be readily available. Turn back the clock a few decades to when it was customary for hardware builders to offer MTBF statistics along with other performance specifications. Nowadays, you’ll see it on disk drives and other components, but not for entire systems, and especially not for distributed systems platforms. He suggests that a closer look at MTBF would often show mainframes exhibiting higher uptimes than machines built on commodity hardware.

Organizations would do well to estimate the cost of downtime as part of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). When those costs are added, the scales could tilt in the mainframe direction.

Spark Speed: Analytics Integration for IoT

Mainframe shops overall may not be hotbeds of innovation, but there are outposts where two events in 2015 converged: First, the January announcement of the latest z13 Systems iteration, and, second, IBM’s announced Apache Spark initiatives.

1.) Cryptologic and Analytics Enhancements: The first of these was notable for the addition of new encryption and analytics capabilities in z13. Add mainframes to public cloud scenarios using new integrated cryptographic features. For example, IBM has announced the Crypto Express5S, a tamper-sensing, tamper-responding programmable crypto feature that provides for a tamper-resistant hardware security module. Encryption can be implemented at a transaction level—in near-rear time—using a secure IBM CCA coprocessor. Analytics computations are facilitated by Single-Instruction Multiple Data instructions that can “decrease the amount of code and accelerate code that handles integer, string, character, and floating-point data types. The SIMD instructions improve performance of complex mathematical models and allow integration of business transactions and analytic workloads on z Systems.”

2.) IBM Turns up the Heat on Spark: IBM’s announced support for Spark meant it would be prodding 3,500 of its developers and researchers to find ways to integrate, extend, or contribute to the Spark ecosystem.

Tools like Syncsort’s Spark connector could be the yeast needed to ferment high-performance architectures designed to support the Internet of Things (IoT). Along with the obvious data sources—financial logs are typically cited as the low-hanging fruit—future transactions may be triggered by sensor events at the endpoint of public or private networks. The volume, variety, and especially velocity of IoT data may stretch “elastic cloud” solutions in ways that do not prove sustainable for some applications.

The approach Amazon Web Services is taking with Netflix might not only entail occasional catastrophic outages, but could prove to have a high TCO for enterprises lacking a Netflix-class IT budget—or tolerance for risk.

The history of “timesharing” from the ‘70s might be a lesson here. It was steadily increasing timesharing and network costs that spawned local computing: first with minicomputers, and then with the personal computer. Today, whenever cloud services exceed a threshold that a business must set for itself, further investments in mainframe technology may become comparatively more attractive.

Hybrid solutions that incorporate high-performance, on-premises mainframes and public cloud could well hold the key to how IoT will transform the very definition what constitutes a transaction.

Postscript about Cattle-Raising

Ten or twenty years from now, Apple and Google may not be riding as high as they seem to be today. One possible reason could be IBM’s steady investment in R&D. In 2014, IBM was awarded more U.S. patents than any other company for the 22nd consecutive year. Its 7,534 patents for that year were the most ever awarded to a single company in a single year.

With 30 percent of its profits coming from mainframe products and services, IBM isn’t likely to risk having that revenue stream turn toward buggy-whip irrelevance.

No doubt, IBM has some serious calving to do to match the longevity of its mainframe cash cow. But no one is questioning its underlying fertility in the world of ideas.

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