IBM: Why the Mainframe Will Never Die, Part II

In an interview with eWEEK, Anne Altman, general manager of the IBM System z Platform in IBM's Systems and Technology Group, explains why the IBM System z mainframe platform remains relevant today and has relevance well into the next decade as it supports new workloads, complements "greening" strategies, bolsters cloud computing models and supports a variety of development and programming technologies. In short, the mainframe continues to adapt to evolving IT environments.

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.