IT Management

Arcati’s annual survey of the System z environment has tracked mainframe trends and developments for the past seven years, and this year’s industry snapshot (published in the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2011) shows the platform is still holding its own despite tough economic conditions.

Cost savings are more important than ever before, and one positive sign for the System z is that most respondents said their user support costs are increasing faster on their UNIX and Windows platforms than on the mainframe. This cost differential has been reinforced by the widespread take-up of specialty processors (such as zIIPs, zAAPs, and IFLs), which are now in use at roughly two-thirds of the organizations surveyed.

As in the past, the most content and committed users are the largest ones, and this year’s survey found that users with more than 10,000 installed MIPS (22 percent of those polled) continue to enjoy steady expansion of their hardware environment. Almost all of these larger sites reported some growth; approximately half increasing capacity by between 10 and 25 percent. The picture is more mixed among smaller users, and in the sub-1,000 MIPS group, a substantial proportion of sites reported static or negative growth.

It’s in this small-user category where the range of other hardware options is greater and in-house expertise relatively limited that the mainframe base is more vulnerable to erosion, either through migration to UNIX or Windows-based systems or outsourcing to third-party hosting companies. It’s at this level, too, that IBM and the more influential ISVs need to engage with senior, non-technical management who don’t fully understand the cost case for the System z. As one respondent commented, “We don’t expect to have a mainframe in two or three years. The CIO sees the mainframe as obsolete and expensive, whether or not either of those is true.” Another complained that, “Mainframe outages are unacceptable; open system outages seem to be tolerated.”

Management prejudice and lack of understanding remain difficult obstacles to overcome, and even the introduction of the zEnterprise 196, with its cost advantages and promises of blade-based support for multiple operating environments, only partly addresses this problem. Another respondent in the Arcati survey said that legacy application costs need to drop much further, while the range of standard third-party software supported by the mainframe needs to be much broader. Few would argue with these points.

This year, the survey explored the level of user enthusiasm for some of the industry’s current hot topics. Cloud computing in particular has dominated more than its fair share of press in recent months, and the mainframe is arguably one of the best solutions for companies seeking cloud-style virtualization. However, this degree of enthusiasm clearly isn’t shared by data center managers; only 16 percent believe their mainframes will be part of a cloud computing strategy in the foreseeable future.

The survey also explored green issues, such as power consumption and cooling, an area where the mainframe has a distinct advantage over power-hungry server farms. Nevertheless, only 28 percent of respondents felt that recent investments by IBM in “greening” the mainframe make the platform more attractive, presumably because environmental benefits don’t directly influence acquisition decisions in many organizations. This situation may change, however, as legislation forces businesses to put mechanisms in place to demonstrate they’re contributing to energy conservation (with financial penalties for those that don’t contribute). Currently, the real environmental costs of distributed servers remain hidden from view, discussed far more widely in the press than in the CIO meetings where hardware platforms are selected.

Around the Vendors

This past year was a good one for mainframe virtual tape system vendor Luminex, which more than doubled its Channel Gateway revenues from 2009. The vendor attributes this success to the fact virtual tape solutions lower capital and operating costs and improve data security. Luminex recently announced its LTMON software, which enables mainframe operations staff to monitor and display messages and initiate commands to Channel Gateways and storage systems directly from the mainframe’s master console.

CSC recently extended its long relationship with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), agreeing to provide ongoing mainframe, midrange, and storage services over the next two years for the tidy sum of $107 million. CSC says the arrangement allowed DIAC to take advantage of a highly complex virtual environment.

The Virtual IMS User Group is calling for more members to exchange views and information about IBM’s IMS hierarchical database and transaction processing systems. The forum, which is run by Trevor Eddolls of iTech-Ed, has a new sponsor, Fundi Software, and is now located at