IBM: Why the Mainframe Will Never Die, Part II

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-05-07

IBM: Why the Mainframe Will Never Die, Part II

Anne Altman, general manager of the IBM System z Platform in IBM's Systems and Technology Group, shared her views on the future of the mainframe with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft in this second part of a Q&A. For part one, click here.

Q: What has the recession meant for mainframe sales?

A: All companies have experienced a challenging year so far, of course. Despite that, we believe we have held share against our competitors in these tough economic conditions.

IBM's global reach clearly is a big advantage for us. In the first quarter of 2009, System z revenue grew 37 percent in worldwide growth markets like China, India, etc. We're seeing customers in these emerging markets really start to build out their infrastructure in banking, retail and other key sectors. They see z and its unique characteristics as ideal to support the unique needs of their industries.

There are lots of signs that IBM's mainframe business remains strong. We had our fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit MIPS growth on mainframe servers. According to IDC, IBM System z market share has nearly doubled, from 17 percent to 32 this decade. Over that same period, HP has remained flat while Sun has lost share. The current IBM z10 mainframes are the most sophisticated servers ever developed - more than a $1.5 billion investment, five years of development and a global team of more than 5,000 technical professionals in IBM locations around the world. And, in fact, the z10, announced in October, has seen our best adoption following a launch ever.

Q: Where are the growth opportunities for System z?

A: We're particularly encouraged by our strong performance in the world's emerging markets, which as I mentioned grew 37 percent in the first quarter. For example, IBM sold its first System z to a commercial bank in India -- the $10 million, seven-year win at Housing Development Finance Corporation Limited (HDFC) Bank.

We see banks and other financial services companies as a particularly prime area where System z delivers great value. Financial services companies are facing increasing business pressures -- managing risk, governance and compliance issues, being prepared for cyber attacks and managing cross-border transactions.  

We're addressing the needs of other industries, too. Government agencies will face unprecedented demands for service and responsiveness, not to mention the crucial importance of securely protecting information.

We also believe that the current economic challenges are aligned perfectly with the benefits that can be delivered by System z. Tough economic times also tend to represent periods of discontinuity that savvy businesses can exploit to their future advantage. It's an opportunity to change the game. System z is uniquely positioned to help customers address their immediate cost issues now, but at the same time provide an infrastructure that will position them to grow. As I mentioned, the winners in the future will be those who can most smartly leverage information, most quickly react and do so in a fashion that is the most reliable and cost effective. The capabilities of System z are centered around these needs today and will build upon it even further as heterogeneous processing and management environments are integrated in the future.

Q: What has open-source software meant for the mainframe? Do you even play there?

A: There is a lot of open-source software already available for z/OS. For example, the IBM Ported Tools for z/OS is a non-priced program that delivers tools and applications for the z/OS platform. These applications have been modified to operate within the z/OS environment. The URL is

The mainframe is a hotbed for business applications-with more than 5,000 unique applications available on the System z platform. Nearly 2,500 of these unique applications are Linux-based.

The System z Linux environment has proven very popular with customers as a means to consolidate workloads as well as deploy new mission-critical mainframe applications that are well suited for Linux. Very often, these Linux applications on System z work in concert with our z/OS environment to make possible an end-to-end solution within the same box. The results speak for themselves. Last year, we saw Linux MIPS grow by 77 percent, with more than 1,300 System z customers benefiting from that environment. That amount of new capacity is equivalent to as many as 60,000 x86 cores and represents a very significant level of usage and growth. We expect the System z Linux environment to continue to thrive.

Education and System z


Q: What is IBM doing to make sure there are enough IT pros with mainframe skills?

A: It's been said that 80 percent of the world's mission-critical data is stored on and accessed by IBM System z. We have a responsibility to ensure students around the world are being educated on System z servers. The System z Academic Initiative Program has added hundreds of schools offering System z course work. More than 50,000 students have been educated on the mainframe. Approximately 550 schools worldwide have now joined IBM to offer course work on the IBM System z enterprise servers. Around the world, more than 1,000 students from Brazil, United Kingdom, Australia, U.S., Canada and China won prizes through the IBM student mainframe contests.

We feel this is important because students with z skills differentiate themselves with a level of versatility and depth that companies look for these days. Universities we work with are reporting strong job placement rates, even in this economy, for students with mainframe skills.

Q: How does System z play in IBM's "Smarter Planet" strategy?

A: The world is becoming more instrumented -- by 2010 there will be a billion transistors per human. The world is becoming more interconnected, with a trillion networked things, and it's becoming more intelligent. Powerful systems are needed for industries to analyze mountains of data and turn it into decision and action, tailored to their specific needs. System z is an important engine behind this.

System z is one important element of a dynamic infrastructure that clients want today. It provides flexibility and choice to users, the agility and responsiveness that businesses need in today's ever-changing environment, the automation and manageability required to provide the control that businesses require, and the ability to modernize mainframe assets. All of these requirements align with what System z can deliver today. As customers embrace the rapidly changing application environments of the future, they can do so knowing that Systems z's capabilities will continue to be enhanced to support their evolving needs.

The dynamic infrastructure vision and the cross-IBM solutions that support it fundamentally differentiate us from commodity hardware vendors. The competition simply does not have the leadership to help apply technology to business problems, the middleware required to enable infrastructure and applications or the breadth of server technologies to deliver a solution optimized for each client's needs.

Q: Do modern programming languages/practices translate to the mainframe?

A: The mainframe has powerful "specialty engines" known as zAAP (System z Application Assist Processor) engines dedicated to running Java and XML workloads. For organizations with legacy data, IBM offers software via EGL (enterprise generation language) for developers of any background to work on the mainframe. For example, IBM Rational software is easy to learn, hides the technical complexity of runtimes and middleware and ensures easy interoperability with legacy data. Basically, customers don't need to worry about a lot of the infrastructure if they use Rational. 

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