Powering your new cloud: mainframes?

By GovTechReview Staff
Friday, 11 October, 2013

They were written off a decade ago by open-systems advocates, but IBM’s dogged persistence has not only kept mainframes alive, but seen them thriving as a Linux-powered, heavily partitionable, massively- scalable alternative to commodity servers

Recent figures from Gartner suggest the mainframe market, which is classified as ‘other’, accounted for industry revenues of around $US1.28 billion. That’s about 10% of the overall server market’s revenues for a market of just over 2200 machines, with a year-on-year decline in unit sales of around 40%. Dayton Semerjian, general manager of CA Technologies’ mainframe business, argues that the numbers can be deceptive because the actual number of mainframe MIPS being pushed into the market is increasing steadily.IBM-zEnterprise-mainframe Continuing demand for highly-specified government applications, he argues, will keep mainframes more relevant than critics ever would have believed. A 2010 CA survey seemingly supports this, with 80% of mainframe decision-makers confirming mainframes as an important part of their business strategy and 73% saying the mainframe was important to their cloud plans. “The applications sitting on mainframes are the core defence, banking and other apps that power the global economy,” Semerjian explains. “High-volume, high-output applications haven’t gone away – and instead of the Internet replacing the mainframe, those applications have become more dependent on the mainframe because those transaction volumes have gone up.” “The software coming around today will enable the platform to be more agile, flexible, and cloud-like,” he adds. “The apps are there, and they perform really well.”

While they may not be for everybody – and never were – IBM is continuing to promote, support, and upgrade its zEnterprise mainframe range. Its latest update to the platform, the zEC12, landed last August as IBM pushed the built-in CPU to 5.5GHz and promoted a range of novel characteristics including Common Criteria EAL Level 5+ security classification; a “tamper-resistant cryptographic co-processor” called Crypto Express4S; improved performance for analytics and DB2 database-driven applications; solid-state storage; and new system monitoring tool called IBM zAware. IBM has minced no words about the ability to leverage this high-density computing power for the cloud: “One zEC12 can encompass the capacity of an entire multi-platform data centre in a single system,” IBM’s zEC12 announcement proudly proclaimed. “Clients can consolidate thousands of distributed systems onto Linux on zEC12, lowering IT operating expenses associated with energy use, floor space and software licensing.” 

The mainframe’s well-established bulletproof partitioning capabilities also, IBM asserts, allows it to run both traditional applications and cloud- based servers at the same time. It’s more than marketing guff, however: in June 2012, the Northern Territory Government purchased a new zEnterprise 114 mainframe for its data centre in Darwin. Performance was cited as a major factor for the choice by director of data centre services Bob Creek. “Due to the multi-access, shared nature of the government’s systems, the IBM z114 upgrade will ensure our mission critical government applications and systems run as efficiently as possible,” Creek said. “The mainframe is fundamental to our business and we believe it will continue to deliver efficiency benefits to government for a long time to come.” – David Braue 

This feature originally ran in the September 2012 issue of Government Technology Review.

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