IBMs Stallings: Mainframes Opening New Markets

Q&A: The head of Big Blue's System z business touts new workloads, such as Linux, and emerging markets as growth drivers.


With the release in April of the z9 Business Class mainframe, IBM announced that it saw not only the midrange as a key market for its high-end computers, but also emerging markets like China, where the announcement was made. The moves were the latest in a push by IBM to keep its System z mainframes not only relevant, but vital. Along those lines, IBM also has rolled out "specialty engines" designed for specific workloads, from Linux and Java to databases. Its worked to some extent so far, with IBM showing continued growth in MIPS shipped, and with officials downplaying an accompanying slowdown in revenue growth.

For the last three-plus months, the job of continuing the mainframe initiative has been under the direction of Jim Stallings, an IBM veteran who most recently oversaw open standards, intellectual property income and Linux for Big Blue. In an interview with eWEEK Senior Editor Jeffrey Burt, Stallings talked about the search for new mainframe business, the focus on security and the programs to bring new blood into the mainframe world.

Can you give me a snapshot of IBMs mainframe business at this point?

The mainframe business is in good shape. As we reported at the end of the fourth quarter last year and as we reported at the end of the first quarter this year, it continues to grow. We measure our growth in a couple of aspects. One aspect is market share. IDCs reported in every quarter that the mainframe is continuing to grow. As a matter of fact, for the past five years, weve picked up in the high-end space 15 points or 14 points in market share. Its been a cumulative shift in the high-end to the mainframe. So its the leading platform, weve got about 32 points of share, but we picked up 14 points over the past five years. Probably the most obvious and apparent measure in the server business is market share. Again, thats including other platforms that are high-end from IBM. The mainframe not only continues to dominate but continues to gain share.

The other way we measure performance or the quality of the business is what we call MIPS shipments. This is processing power for the mainframe, and MIPS shipments continue to grow. And there are multiple categories. Theres a total MIPS shipment that grew in the fourth quarter over 20 percent. In the first quarter, our MIPS shipments grew 22 percent. And again, thats a number that says how much processing power youre shipping into the market on a quarterly basis. When you compare that with a year ago in the first quarter, its up 22 percent.

The third way we look at it is the MIPS shipped in what we call the new-workloads category. We track that by what we call specialty engines MIPS. These are the engines that run the new workloads—we call them new workloads [but] theyre getting to be old. Theyre Linux workloads, theyre Java workloads, and we announced zIIP [z9 Integrated Information processor], which is an information processor specialty engine that runs database workloads. So those were up very high in the first quarter. As a matter of fact, they were 35 percent of the total MIPS that we shipped. Our [chief financial officer] pointed out that the adoption of the mainframe continues to grow, the growth of MIPS continues to grow at a rate that is above 20 percent, and then as you break down these specialty engine MIPS, it shows that our strategy of being able to attract new workloads to the platform is working.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about IBMs new software initiative aimed at boosting the image and capabilities of its System Z mainframe systems for Internet-based and SOA-oriented computing.

In the first-quarter numbers, the MIPS that were shipped did increase, but the revenue for the mainframes declined. How do you resolve that?

Underneath the revenue—which is why we dont just look at market share, which is why we dont just look at revenue—its why we also look at this MIPS indicator. The forward-looking view says, if youre shipping MIPS, its just capacity. If the customer doesnt use it right away, we ship it, and we count it in MIPS. Its a forward-looking comment about the customers intentions.

Next Page: Specialty engines lead to growth.