Mainframes Make Way Back to Data Centers

A data center industry group says 80 percent of its members use mainframes and that others are starting to use them again.

DALLAS—James Gosling, Sun Microsystems distinguished scientist and generally known as the father of Java, likes to call them "big hunk" servers. Some people call them Big Blues—since IBM builds most of them—while others describe them simply as room-size computers.

But they are known best as mainframe computers, and, if you listen to at least one well-informed industry observer, theyre starting a serious comeback into new data centers.

William DiBella, the new president of AFCOM, the professional association that is staging Data Center World here, told eWEEK that theres no question that mainframes—those stalwarts of the IT industry since the 1950s—remain evergreen. This is especially true now that the powering and cooling of data centers has become such a hot-button topic, he said Sept. 17.

"Weve gone through a whole cycle, starting with mainframes 30 and 40 years ago, moving to smaller machines in the 1990s, and now were seeing a move back to mainframes," DiBella said in an interview. "Companies are finding out that they just cant keep buying cheaper server boxes and stacking them up in racks. The time eventually comes when you run out of space. Power supplies are becoming limited, and with every box, you add more power draw and cost."

This flies in the face of the wisdom of three to four years ago, when companies such as Oracle were touting "Unbreakable Linux" and its parallel database to build IT systems running on scads of linked-together open systems in relatively inexpensive rack-optimized servers.

"Weve seen one [large] company scale down from 3,500 servers to 30 mainframes," DiBella said. "Look at all the power savings you see there. Companies with these large farms are going to have to either consolidate onto mainframes and/or continue to keep virtualizing everything, or both."

DiBella and AFCOM CEO Jill Eckhaus said some of the larger enterprise members of their association are planning to follow suit and consolidate many of their server farms into smaller, more intense data centers built around at least one mainframe.


Click here to read about the five steps that lead to a scalable data center.

"Now some of the larger companies, of course, will have two mainframes for redundancy purposes, but the change is starting to happen," Eckhaus said. "The mainframes last much longer, they run better and are easier to manage. The days of saying, We need more storage? Oh, just throw 150 more servers on the racks are gone."

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., is one mainframe manufacturer that is ready and waiting for customers to come knocking.

In June, Big Blue launched its Destination z program, which aims to give the companys mainframe customers, ISVs and partners a new Web portal to discuss and debate different aspects of IBMs System z mainframes. Destination z will allow mainframe customers to exchange ideas as well as look for partners with mainframe skills.

AFCOM, based in Orange, Calif., is an association for data center professionals that offers services to help support the management of data centers around the world. Established in 1980, AFCOM currently has more than 3,600 members and 26 chapters worldwide.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...