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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

IBM – The Mainframe at 50, still a leader

It is significant when any product survives 50 years of commercial life;, to do so while remaining both technologically relevant and groundbreaking amidst a few decades of predictions of its eminent demise, it is nearly, but not quite, unbelievable. You can see a replay of the Mainframe50 event, as well as mainframe details as IBM celebrated the IBM 360 announcement on April 8th, 1964. At the event, IBM described the mainframe’s early and on-going impact on business, industry and society as it has driven change and permitted breakthroughs in capabilities and services. They discussed and introduced participants in IBM’s decade long educational project and Master the Mainframe competition for teaching, cultivating and recruiting of the “millennials”, the next generation of mainframers. Finally, they announced new mainframe products and solutions. They introduced new utility-based pricing that saves charges by reducing reported CPU utilization (by up to 65%) due to Mobile transactions.
IBM is adding to and introducing new mainframe solutions and capabilities to bring analytics to where the data resides to realize significant savings in time-to-value, while increasing effectiveness of analysis. They introduced a tightly integrated System z, workload-optimized system for business analytics. For example, building on past success with Linux is the first commercial implementation of Hadoop for Linux on System z – processing 2 Billion records in 2 hours using 2 IFLs (special purpose Linux accelerators). IBM is enhancing and speeding data and file transfer rates with its high performance flash enclosure on the IBM DS887. The result is vastly improved response times when accessing and analyzing data. For MSPs and ESPs, IBM announced a specially priced IBM Enterprise Cloud System. This is a factory-integrated, Linux cloud environment packaged with fully automated Cloud management suite, including support and financing. 
The Mainframe architecture reached 50 by surviving market fads, setbacks and radical changes in styles of computer processing and access. It has adapted and been improved by driving change and delivering high reliability, high volume computing without failure for years on end. It still does. Today, the mainframe is the backend supporting a multiplicity of workloads ranging from global gaming to mobile apps for financial services, logistics and planning. Mainframe customers from around the world told their stories of the mainframe’s contribution and impact. At the website, Mainframe50 Engines of Progress, IBM customers such as, Africa’s Business Connexion, the UK Met Office, Swiss Re, Walmart, VISA and others make a compelling case of mainframe power and capability.
Mainframe innovations have been adopted and have influenced the styles of computing (often without acknowledgement), infrastructure virtualization being just one recent example. It is the workhorse for cloud services, including analytics and transaction processing. It is bringing unprecedented efficiency, reduced costs and agility for enterprise operations taking place on a massive scale.
Skilled staff are necessary to support, maintain and use the mainframe. Along with stories of the end of the mainframe, a staple among IT journalists and pundits have been stories about an aging, disappearing mainframe workforce and lack of new talent knowledgeable about the intricacies of mainframe development, operations, management and administration. IBM along with other mainframers pursued two paths to address these. One path focused on automated solutions for optimized operations and management of the mainframe. We’ve documented a number of these, available from multiple vendors in blogs and commentaries on our website (www.ptakassociates.com).   
The second approach involved a program of interaction and education with universities world-wide.  Started a decade ago, programs are now in place at high schools, colleges and universities in over 67 countries.  A comprehensive program of support and infrastructure aided professors and institutions in building programs and attracting students to develop mainframe skills. Shortly after its inauguration, the program expanded to include the Master the Mainframe competition. This was a focused, time-intensive competition challenging students to develop and submit a mainframe application in a worldwide competition. Since 2005, over 68,000 students from 30 countries on 6 continents have competed. In 2013, in the U.S. and Canada alone, over 2,000 high school students competed. Having met and spoken with several of the more successful contestants, the program provides significant benefits to everyone involved.
 At 50, the mainframe remains the benchmark for reliability, security and stability even as infrastructure technology evolves and improves. The mainframe isn’t right for every task or workload. Just as a jumbo jet or bus aren’t right for every transportation need. But, for suitable workloads and tasks, it is unbeatable. IBM‘s Steve Mills, SVP and Group Executive for Software and Systems, reports they continue to attract 40 to 60 brand-new (to the mainframe) customers each year. This may not sound like much, but added to the existing base, it drives a significant and healthy portion of the business. We don’t expect to be at the 75th anniversary, but are willing to bet the mainframe story will be even more interesting then.