Two years ago, when Chris O'Malley spoke at the CA World conference about mainframes, there were fewer than 150 people in attendance.
A year later, in November 2008, when O'Malley, executive vice president and general manager of CA's Mainframe Business Unit, again spoke at CA World, 550 people crammed into a room that held 450, and more people had to be turned away at the doors.
It hasn't always been that way.
"When I first started doing these events, four people, a milkman and a dog would show up," he said.
O'Malley uses such episodes as last year's CA World talk to illustrate what he says is a groundswell of interest in the mainframe platform.
"[The mainframe has] been going through a steady revival" since around 2000, when the Internet bubble burst, O'Malley said in an interview. "Now it's accelerating."
The global recession and the cost and management headaches associated with distributed systems have businesses rethinking the value of mainframes. Add in the work that IBM, CA and others, such as BMC Software and Compuware, have done to reduce the cost of the big machines while expanding the types of workloads that can run on them, and mainframes become an attractive alternative.
"The economy has made people pause and look at their environments very hard," O'Malley said. "Mainframes are looking a lot more robust."
Mainframes were thought to be a dying breed in the 1990s, as distributed environments began to take hold. Their resurgence began about eight years ago, and now mainframe MIPS have quadrupled to 14 million since that time, O'Malley said.
CA is making a major push in the mainframe agenda with its previously announced Mainframe 2.0 initiative, and the deliverables unveiled May 5 touch on numerous areas, from easing mainframe management and monitoring to attracting more-and younger-programmers to the mainframe platform.
In its first steps in Mainframe 2.0, CA upgraded 143 of its 166 mainframe management offerings, introduced a new management solution and highlighted its efforts to bring a new generation of young programmers into the mainframe realm, showing them that there is a strong future for mainframers.
O'Malley said the offerings in Mainframe 2.0 are among the most significant advances in mainframe technology, with a key goal being to simplify the mainframe management tasks to make the big machines more attractive to both businesses and programmers.
CA's MSM (Mainframe Software Manager)-which offers a browser-based interface implemented via the Google Web Toolkit-aims to make it easier for users to simplify management of CA software on IBM's z/OS platform. The software's Product Acquisition Service gives users transparent access to CA mainframe solutions and services, and installation and maintenance is eased via the Software Installation Service.
In addition, to attract younger programmers, much of the code for Mainframe 2.0 was developed by CA programmers from the same generation. In its literature supporting Mainframe 2.0, CA quotes several of its programmers who are in their 20s.
Both IBM and CA have been aggressive in courting younger programmers, letting them know that not only is mainframe programmer a strong career choice, but that the platform will be around a long time.
"Part of what I need to do is show them that this platform was not dug out of some archaeological dig in Egypt," O'Malley said.
He said CA came out with such a massive announcement in its first step of Mainframe 2.0 to catch people's attention-both businesses and programmers-to let them know that the mainframe is healthy and strong.
"It's important for customers to have confidence in the market, to see someone come out and battle it out with IBM," he said. "We're proving to customers what can be done."
CA wanted to show people that there continues to be innovation on the platform, and that there is competition that will help the customer.
In a report issued May 6, Joe Clabby, an analyst with Clabby Analytics, said the mainframe business is booming, with MIPS growing rapidly since 2000. There doesn't seem to be a dearth of mainframe programmers, and many businesses are finding such people from within their own ranks, Clabby said.
"The mainframe installed base is still very happy with its mainframe computing systems and is growing that base," Clabby wrote. "Further, IBM has added dozens of net-new mainframe customers over the past few years-including several who are running packaged Linux/SAP applications on mainframes. The adoptions of new Linux-based applications on mainframes indicates that IT buyers are starting to buy into the messaging that mainframes can handle new types of workloads."
He said IBM and CA have been the most aggressive in simplifying mainframe management, including IBM spending $100 million in its "March to Simplification" program to "graphically enable existing mainframe management programs-and to automate management functions in order to reduce human-related labor costs."
CA has taken a similar route, Clabby said, adding that he "has seen demonstrations of CA's new mainframe management graphical users interfaces-and can attest that CA is moving in the right direction when it comes to simplifying its products for next-generation mainframe managers and administrators."
BMC, Compuware and ASG also offer mainframe management tools, he said.
Clabby said CA's efforts make sense.
"CA's effort to simplify the management of mainframe environments is far more than just taking its green-screen, command line-driven products and slapping on a Web browser front-end," he wrote. "CA is spending big bucks to graphically improve its products, to centrally manage those products under a common umbrella, and to create common approaches so management facilities operate in a consistent way across its various mainframe management functions."
Such work by CA and others will go a long way in keeping businesses looking at the mainframe.
"The efforts of mainframe solutions providers like CA and IBM continue to demonstrate that mainframes can be managed like UNIX and Windows environments, while fulfilling the most demanding requirements of even the most modern enterprises," Clabby wrote.