Update: The mainframe also rises

While IBM unveils lower cost zSeries mainframe, Sun debuts its Mainframe Migration Program

IBM celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first mainframe on Wednesday with the unveiling of a lower cost version of its flagship e-Server zSeries z990 mainframe that it will target at mid-size companies.

Not letting an opportunity pass to take a competitive swipe at its long-time rival, Sun Microsystems, also on Wednesday, unveiled its Mainframe Migration Program. The program will afford corporate users the chance to "retire" their aging IBM mainframes with grace and dignity and allow them to smoothly switch over to less expensive Sun servers.

This is only the latest skirmish in a very long war of server strategies between the two companies, with one selling a centralized server approach conducive to consolidating workloads thereby saving corporate users money, while the other pushes a distributed approach it claims can greatly reduce total cost of ownership and eliminate recurring licensing fees.

With IBM now holding the No. 1 position for overall server hardware revenues along with the recent financial performance of its zSeries, some analysts think IBM may have the edge in this ongoing battle.

"There have been numerous attempts by many over the past 10 years or more to bury the mainframe, claiming it is dead. But in fact, over the past two quarters IBM has grown revenues. This tells me people are still investing in the mainframe and the zSeries architecture in general," said Steve Josselyn, research director for IDC's Global Enterprise Server Solutions in Framingham, Mass.

Josselyn believes what is working in IBM's favor in many cases is not just the technical advantages of consolidation but the chance to reduce staffing to maintain sometimes dozens of distributed machines.

"You can accomplish similar types of workloads using different architectures. But what customers have learned is once you start [buying distributed systems], administrators realize that it's people who are the biggest cost in that equation," Josselyn said.

One of the major benefits of their migration program, according to Sun officials, is that users can use the same data and applications as those now living on the mainframe, eliminating the costs associated with changes to business processes and retraining technical personnel. Once the switchover has been made, users pay a one-time fee and do away with the mainframe's monthly fees.

While some observers think IBM now has the edge, Sun officials think time ultimately time is on their side. They believe many of the IT workers expert on mainframes over the past few decades are retiring with few people left to step in to replace them.

"Having worked as a CIO and what I see now, the biggest challenge in the mainframe environment is the inability to find young folks and work in the support environment. People just do not want to do it," said Larry Singer, Sun's vice president in charge of Glbal Marketing Strategies in Menlo Park, Ca.

"I think their (IBM's) offering is a great offering but anyone who wants to take advantage of it will have to make massive changes that may cause lots of users to look at what their alternatives are," Singer said.

Sun officials claim their solutions can help reduce corporate users' IT costs by as much as 70 percent and on average by 50 percent, as well as boost the performance of application on average by 65 percent.

Sun reports that so far some 1,050 mainframe customer installations have been migrated using the company's Mainframe Rehosting software.

The new e-Server zSeries z890 is 100 percent faster than its predecessor the z800, IBM officials claim, and is about 30 percent smaller. IBM hopes to attract mid-size companies that may be looking to replace older host systems or upgrade to a less expensive single server from a series of smaller distributed systems.

"This [z890] is taking a lot of the high-end technology we introduced in the z990 for our largest users, and scaling it down in a size and price for mid-size enterprises. It introduces a lower entry capacity of 26 MIPS, with the lower end model going for a little under $200,000," said Colette Martin, product marketing director for IBM's zSeries in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

As part of the announcement, IBM is giving a preview of the upcoming z/OS 1.6, expected to be available this September. The new version features new support for the zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP), which has a specialized z/OS Java execution environment deigned to encourage the integration of Web applications with existing applications residing on the same server.

Company officials said they expect to deliver a 64-bit application environment for both C/C++ and a Java SDK to help simplify porting applications, they said. IBM is also previewing z/VSE V3R1, the next generation of VSE for zSeries customers, with plans to offer open device (SCSI) support.

The new model also features support for Integrated Coupling Facilities and On/Off CoD , which provides temporary capacity for Parallel Sysplex clustering and Java workloads. This capability gives users more scalability when they must respond to sudden surges in demand, a company spokesman said.

In concert with the z890, IBM also unveiled its Total Storage Enterprise StorageServer 750, a lower end version of its Shark storage system, which will also be aimed at mid-size companies. Used with the z890, company officials claim the two can make consolidating environments easier.

The low end version of the product has a capacity of 1.1TB and can be expanded to hold up to 4.6TB. It also features 20 autonomic features including the ability to allow mainframe jobs to execute in parallel with queue management moved to the ESS from the server.

Entry level price for the z890 is around $200,000, with the zAAP hardware available June 30. The TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server 750 is expected to ship some time in May with prices starting at around $100,000.