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Monday, November 18, 2013

Enterprise2013: System z – sophisticated, agile and going strong



Shortly after the Enterprise Executive Summit at Enterprise 2013, IBM held its quarterly update on the mainframe. The two thirds of Enterprise 2013 were devoted to the Power Systems Technical University and the System z Technical University. Given that IBM’s major market moves are laser focused on Cloud, (Big) Data and Security AND the continuing success and revenue contribution of the platform – it’s no surprise that System z got lots of attention. The mainframe, launched on April 7th, 1964, is the longest lived (50 years next spring) IT processor architecture, so don’t expect IBM’s spotlight to shift away. IBM is well into a campaign to expand the knowledge about and fame of today’s mainframe, System z. Their message and efforts boil down to the following.

Education – to inform and develop skills
IBM is out to assure that the unique capabilities and history of the mainframe are known in IT, in education, in executive offices and by consumers of IT services. The object is to eliminate misconceptions, strengthen the understanding and appreciation of what is increasingly recognized as a very cost effective solutions platform. They are undertaking a more aggressive information campaign both inside IBM and in the general market. The campaign includes the nearly decade old IBM Academic Initiative[1] for System z and its Master the Mainframe[2] competition. The competition attracted 5,200+ US and Canadian competitors, 925 from the U.K., 1,000+ from India and more from over 549 (out of 1000+) participating universities and colleges worldwide[3]. Participating schools included: West Texas A&M (3 top finishers), University of Ottawa, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Wroclaw University of Technology, MIT and Princeton. IBM has launched a similar introductory program for high schools, which is already showing positive results.

Program benefits were described by the most recent competition winner, now working as a mainframe specialist, described his path to winning the challenge to an executive audience. A young woman, whose high school teacher introduced his science class to the mainframe, changed her career goal from CSI Technician to IT. Now, a college Computer Science major, she told her story (and offered her resume) to IT executives and managers at the event.

Infrastructure matters
First, let’s be really clear that IT infrastructure matters. IBM is clear that the enterprise is not the exclusive domain of the mainframe; other platforms effectively operate there as well. Today’s enterprise data centers depend upon and leverage a broad range of applications, workloads and services. Not all of which require a mainframe solution, and IBM provides platforms to meet those needs. However, both globally and in the US, the Big Data platform that dominates is the mainframe. For example, some 80% of the world’s and 2/3 of US enterprise Big Data[4] resides on the mainframe. IBM is closing on the 11th consecutive year-over-year of growth in both revenue and MIPs shipped.

IT Economics and the application determine the platform
Second, it’s IT economics and the requirements of the workload, application or service that should determine platform choice. The analysis includes application needs for performance, operations, architecture, as well as business and economic components. It includes Total Cost of Acquisition and Ownership to be complete. Sometimes, the best choice is a mix of systems. The zEnterprise provides an example, which integrates System z with the users’ choice of Power[5]  and/or x86 platforms.  Workloads and functions are distributed across the platforms to greatly reduce operational expenses, capital expenses and per transaction/application, etc. metric costs. IBM customers are finding that moving the Big Data from the mainframe to a distributed server for analysis is inefficient and wasteful. They can save money; speed processing and effectively analyze more data (dynamic and static) to yield meaningful insights by pairing a PureData for (Big Data) Analytics[6] system with the System z where the data resides. IBM works with customers to determine the most appropriate solution. 

Capitalizing on transformative technologies
The path an enterprise takes to reshape and redefine its customer engagement model can take many forms. But it will certainly involve one of more transformative technology.  Whether that technology is Big Data analytics, deploying/leveraging robust, scalable clouds, the design, deployment or integration of mobile applications or requires the highest level of security to avoid costs or create a trusted partnership, IBM has positioned the System z to play a key role. EFiS EDI Finance Service AG runs Linux on z to assure a highly secure environment for its financial customers. Nationwide Insurance realized “enormous savings in software licensing costs” by moving workloads from “thousands of distributed processors to a very small number of powerful mainframe processors”. Sicoob saved 1.5M USD in electricity costs when it moved to a System z from a distributed environment. After a somewhat skeptical reception by analysts at its introduction, Linux on z has proven to be a highly popular base for infrastructure consolidation and virtualization. Mark Shackelford, Baldor Electric’s VP of Information Systems, says, “One of the great things about System z is its ability to reduce costs. All of our Linux environments run on IFLs, which again deliver a very considerable cost saving.” These stories and more are available at: http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/uk/z/success/index.html.

What’s new and we recommend
With IBM zEnterprise models starting as low as $75K (US prices in fall 2013), the mainframe is more affordable than ever. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that IBM introduced new models, enhancements and capabilities for the mainframe. These included such things as: a) new data compression acceleration, b) high speed communication fabric, c) new Flash technology exploitation capability, d) analytics to monitor and assure Proactive Systems Health, e) enhancements to Hybrid Computing and new zIIP and zAAP Specialty engines. Details can be found at this IBM website: http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/z/.

We’ll conclude by saying, we left the event very impressed with IBM’s strategy, tactics and success so far. We were also impressed with the value to executives and IT staff. We saw this in the presentations and sessions we attended as well as in conversations on the show floor. But, perhaps more impressive were the discussions with attendees at the event. At meals, during breaks and social events, IT operations staff, administrators and executives were willing to discuss their experiences and success with the mainframe and IBM’s support staff. Their stories and off-hand comments provided anecdotal, informal ratification of the details provided by IBM. We recommend attending one of these events whatever platform you now use.


[2] 65,000 competitors over eight years in 33 countries
[3] Other participating countries include Poland, China, India, nine Spanish South American countries, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakstan, Belarus, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Taiwan
[4] About 2/3 of US Big Data is on the mainframe
[6] Or a DB2 Analytics Accelerator or PureData for HADOOP