Data Centers Defend Their Territory

Operations managers espouse mainframe computing to e-businesses

Hardly a bastion of new Economy excitement and dot-com exuberance, the stoically titled Association For Computer Operations Management is making overtures to the e-business generation with decidedly unsexy terms such as mainframe computing and batch processing.

The 3,000-member group, which predates the PC revolution, the last recession and the Internet, is counting on its trade show in Las Vegas this week—and another in Orlando, Fla., this fall—to spread the message that data centers are once again chic in big business.

"E-business is fast becoming important to our data center managers. These people grew up in the traditional mainframe, large-computer area," said Len Eckhaus, who founded AFCOM in 1981.

After two decades of being pigeon-holed as the group that caters to enterprise data center technicians, managers and the users who rely on them, the group, based in Orange, Calif., is ready to teach the newcomers something, Eckhaus said.

"They give us the right audience," said longtime AFCOM member Gary Leibowitz, director of BMC Software Inc.s InControl business unit, in Houston. "Were able to gather within a small, pinpoint area with people who are having the same problems were confronting. ... AFCOMs new role is to try to get more exposure and to say that e is not a foreign word in the data center."

BMC is one of about 80 companies expected to attend the Las Vegas show, including other name brands such as Computer Associates International Inc., StorageTek Corp. and USDataCenters Inc.

In addition to the show, the organization has launched the Data Center Institute to promote the technology its members support. This week, AFCOM will release its annual data center survey, addressing spending, e-business trends and their effect on data centers, and wireless issues. AFCOM hopes to address topics such as storage, security and interoperability, along with expansion into Europe. The group must continue working with other trade associations, such as those affiliated with application service providers, telecommunications companies and general e-commerce groups, officials said.

AFCOM has long been a venue for the nations 2,600 data centers and the engineers who control them to swap knowledge about mainframe-based storage, industrial computers and related technologies. But the role of the data center is taking on increased importance as outsourcing companies grow, Eckhaus said.

Now, he explained, AFCOM is trying to help managers of Americas approximately 9,000 enterprise data centers understand the benefits of Internet technologies, while helping the Internet companies realize that things such as mainframes and batch processing are still the most stable systems available.

"Youre enabling vendors to both get a stage to voice our opinions of solutions and to be able to absorb candid comments and suggestions and feedback from the people were developing solutions for," Leibowitz said. "Before long, corporations find themselves with a lot of different IT solutions, and, sooner rather than later, it becomes too difficult to manage. Thats when the data center people come in."

Like Eckhaus, Leibowitz acknowledged the common attitude that mainframe systems are behind the times. "Everybodys got to be open to change, including mainframe people and nonmainframe people," he said. "The mainframe isnt the center of the world anymore, but anyone in the e-business world thats trying to build a stable solution [without such technology] is also not seeing reality. ... I think that up until now, AFCOM stayed too static."

Security, in particular, is one of the AFCOM surveys biggest issues, Eckhaus said, but it cant be addressed in the traditional way that data center managers used years ago.

"Theres a different emphasis on security today," Eckhaus said. "Where concerns used to be things like end-user penetration in the enterprise, todays concerns are electronic in nature."

Plus, in their rush to release new products, todays software vendors might overlook security measures, he said. "The mainframe software didnt have to contend with hackers," he said. Todays companies have many more issues before them to reach the mainframe-level of data security, he said.

Meanwhile, said USDataCenters Chief Operating Officer and AFCOM participant Ron Rainville, enterprise data center operators can learn something from the dot-com generation. "Once they start realizing the economies, the brick-and-mortars [will come] into line; now they want to outsource. Theres a whole different mentality from the Internet sector that enterprise companies are now starting to see," Rainville said.

Although this weeks trade show is USDataCenters first time working with AFCOM, the Marlborough, Mass., company views the show as beneficial primarily for its attendees.