Forty years after introducing its first mainframe server, IBM continues to polish the venerable computing platform with hardware and software enhancements designed to make it useful as a data repository and computing engine for Web applications and other, newer computing workloads.
IBM next month will offer a midsize mainframe, the zSeries 890, that promises the scalability, flexibility and security that mainframes have always offered. But the new box, which is based on IBMs hefty z990 mainframe, also promises twice the speed of the z800 mainframe in a smaller footprint and at a price much lower than the z990.
"More than 70 percent of our revenues come from new workloads" such as e-business and Linux applications and Web serving, said Joan Meltzer, director of the zSeries at IBM, in Armonk, N.Y.
A key new capability in the z890, and added in the z990, is the zSeries Application Assist Processor, known as zAAP. Like the Linux specialty engine for mainframes that IBM already offers, zAAP provides a Java execution environment that runs next to the CPU.
This feature enables customers to integrate Web applications on the mainframe, thus consolidating more workload onto a single machine, IBM officials said.
IBM has also recently enhanced the back-end software that complements big-iron hardware. Among the 20 software tools rolled out is Version 8.1 of IBMs DB2 Utilities Suite for z/OS, which supports such things as long names and statements, enhanced indexing and partitioning, and online schemata. Other DB2 tools enhancements address automation, path checking, object comparisons and SQL performance analysis.
Also on the software side, IBM in September will make available Version 1.6 of its z/OS operating system. The new version will feature enhanced handling of Java, enhanced workload management for Web serving applications (thanks to IBMs recent acquisition of Candle Corp.) and enhanced availability for IP networks. Also on the tools front, z/OS 1.6 will have a software development kit for building 64-bit C, C++ and Java applications.
IBM has seen DB2 on mainframe revenues grow at double-digit rates over the last few years, said Janet Perna, general manager of the companys Data Management Software group. "[Some] companies want to keep their information assets associated with applications centralized within the mainframe environment," Perna said.
IBM must keep expanding DB2 connectivity and flexing its utility muscle to keep customers from moving from DB2 on the mainframe to less costly platforms such as an Oracle Corp. database on Unix, analysts say.
Some mainframe shops, such as industrial replacement parts distributor Motion Industries Inc., which serves 450 branch offices and inventories 2.5 million parts on its mainframe, said leaving the mainframes centralized architecture would become a "support nightmare." Ellen Holladay, senior vice president of IT and operational excellence for Motion Industries, a subsidiary of Genuine Parts Co., credits the mainframe in helping to build Motions customer-facing transactional Web site without additional code writing, except presentation, in just three months.
"If a customer calls in, its imperative our branches have real-time access to our inventory system at one time. ... For our mainframe, that was our primary goal," said Holladay, in Birmingham, Ala.
But IBM still has a ways to go to persuade users such as Alan Walker to stick with the mainframe. Walker, vice president of Sabre Labs, part of Sabre Holdings Corp., said productivity gains, open-systems flexibility and an eye toward the future is leading Sabre to migrate from an eight-mainframe cluster to 45 Intel-based servers running MySQL ABs namesake database.
"If Im doing something on public standards, such as Linux, C++ or Unix, I can hire people out of college. If they dont know it, I can send them down to Barnes & Noble [Inc.] to buy a book and learn," said Walker in Southlake, Texas. "People arent graduating college with IBM mainframe knowledge."