IT Management

z/Vendor Watch:  A Future in the Clouds

It’s been a good quarter for IBM, and for the first time in a while, the mainframe is responsible for much of the excitement. In the financial results announced on Oct. 8, revenues from System z server products increased 15 percent compared with a year ago, while total delivery of System z MIPS increased by 54 percent.

While the IBM results as a whole were positive as predicted, the mainframe growth may have raised a few eyebrows among the “new technology” fans on Wall Street. It reflects the huge concerted sales effort under way at IBM since the zEnterprise 196 announcements in July to make sure a substantial number of customers signed up for more System z MIPS by the end of September. IBM CEO Sam Palmisano insisted that all big users had a proposal on their desks on announcement day, and the Mainframe Market Monitor reported that the offers it reviewed were some of the most aggressive seen for many years, particularly those outside the U.S.

It seems likely the z196 wasn’t originally intended to be unveiled until October 2010, but the announcement was brought forward to mid-summer in response to lagging mainframe sales figures from the early months of the year. The turnaround in the mainframe’s financial health suggests the move paid off and is testament both to the commitment of IBM’s sales team and to the power and functionality of the new platform.

Heading for the Clouds

In view of the aforementioned, you might be wondering where the demand for capacity is coming from; after all, aren’t we still recovering from a worldwide recession?

Part of the enthusiasm for the z196 comes down to pent-up demand for MIPS, a phenomenon that occurs leading up to each new generation. Nevertheless, this trend is less marked now than in the past, and there are relatively few users around who have reached the top-end of the z10 range and are desperate for more MIPS. Indeed, the z196 is arguably the first mainframe range that has reached the market with plenty of MIPS to spare, and this is significant as it’s the mainframe’s vast capacity and high utilization rates that will guarantee its place in future cloud-computing initiatives. 

The mainframe (and particularly the z196) has a great deal to offer in virtualized cloud environments, and this is one of the main drivers of demand at present. In a recent survey of 300 mainframe users by analyst Vanson Bourne on behalf of CA Technologies, 79 percent of respondents said they believed the System z would be an integral part of their cloud-computing strategies, and 70 percent felt that cloud would sustain or extend the life of the mainframe environment.

If one source of research isn’t enough, BMC has also been doing some number-crunching. The company’s fifth Annual Worldwide Survey of Mainframe Users reports that 84 percent of respondents expected to see growing or steady MIPS usage on the System z—a figure that has remained consistent over the past several years. In addition, almost 60 percent of respondents indicated the mainframe will attract new workloads over the next year. The survey also found that many respondents were concerned about reducing IT costs in the next year—with 65 percent of participants stating that reducing costs was one of their top-four priorities.

Of course, there are many cultural barriers to overcome in consolidating distributed workloads onto z/OS, and the graying mainframe workforce is still a significant issue in some areas. But the enthusiasm for a more centralized solution to satisfy future virtualized growth requirements, particularly in new dynamic markets such as India and China, really plays to the mainframe’s strengths.