Mainframes aren't going to disappear any time soon, given that a significant majority of users not only plan to maintain or grow their use of MIPS over the next year, but also that many of them are interested in big iron's growing role in hybrid operating environments.
"The mainframe is still looking good, especially in a down economy," Bill Miller, president of mainframe services management at BMC Software, said in an interview with eWEEK. "The reality is that the mainframe is still a good place to be, and MIPS [usage is] growing."
BMC, which sells mainframe management software, on Oct. 25 released its annual survey of mainframe users and found that customers continue to rely on the systems' reliability, security and scalability, Miller said. In addition, they see a future for the mainframe that includes a wider variety of workloads and a growing number of environments, such as clouds.
Among the survey's key findings was that 84 percent of respondents said they plan to maintain or grow their use of MIPS. About 57 percent said they expect the mainframe will bring on new workloads over the next year, and 37 percent said mainframes will be a useful platform over the long run. By comparison, 4 percent suggested they are considering moving away from the mainframes within the next five years.
In addition, 65 percent of mainframe users said their top priority is cutting IT expenses. Other priorities include disaster recovery (34 percent), application modernization (30 percent) and aligning IT with business needs (29 percent).
BMC surveyed 1,707 mainframe users worldwide, and almost half of the respondents work in companies with revenues of more than $1 billion. As with past surveys, key among the reasons mainframe users stick with big iron are the centralized management, speed and performance, availability, and security, according to BMC.
The results dovetail with the growth IBM is seeing in its System z mainframe business. In its third-quarter earnings, which the company announced Oct. 18, IBM saw its mainframe revenues grow 15 percent and MIPS jump 54 percent.
The interest in driving down IT costs was illustrated in the rising interest in using specialty engines, or special processors that are used to run particular workloads that are offloaded from the system's CP (central processor). More than half of the larger IT departments surveyed said they plan to expand their use of such specialty engines over the next two years.
Over the past decade, IBM, in an effort to expand the number and variety of workloads its System z mainframes can run, has created specialty engines, such as the IFL for running Linux applications; zIIP for such mission-critical back-end applications as databases, ERP (enterprise resource planning) and BI (business intelligence); and zAAP for running Java and XML workloads. By offloading such workloads from the more expensive CP, enterprises can save money on licensing costs and free up the CP for other tasks.
In particular, the zIIP and IFL specialty engines are getting the most attention from businesses, Miller said.
Enterprises also are interested in growing the mainframe's presence in hybrid data center environments that run a mix of systems and OSes-including z/OS and z/Linux-a direction in which IBM officials are pushing big iron with the release in July of its zEnterprise mainframe, which is built to be a central management hub of sorts for data centers through which other systems-including IBM Power7 and x86 servers and other mainframes-are managed. Through the zEnterprise, entire data center systems can be managed as a single system in a virtualized environment.
IBM spent $1.5 billion developing the zEnterprise, and officials when launching the systems said businesses could reduce data center management costs by as much as 70 percent.
Miller said that for the most part, BMC officials are seeing interest among mainframe users to continue using the massive systems. There doesn't seem to be as much interest among businesses that aren't currently running mainframes to bring them into the data center. However, the zEnterprise system-BMC is running one in-house, Miller said-could change that to some degree as enterprises wrestle with ways to manage their growing distributed environments.
"It might give folks thoughts [of investing in mainframe technology]," he said.
Management continues to be an issue for users, with 74 percent saying they interested in cross-platform monitoring and event management.