The mainframe also rises

IBM, Sun mark 40th anniversary of mainframe with competing strategies

Big Blue celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first mainframe by unveiling a lower-cost version of its flagship e-Server zSeries z990 mainframe.

Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, 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 IBM selling a centralized server approach conducive to consolidating workloads thereby saving corporate users money, and Sun pushing a distributed approach it claims can greatly reduce total cost of ownership and eliminate recurring licensing fees.

"There have been numerous attempts 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.

Josselyn said IBM offers 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 its migration program, according to Sun officials, is the ability to use the same data and applications now living on the mainframe, reducing the costs associated with changes to business processes and retraining technical personnel. When the switch has been made, users pay a one-time fee and do away with the mainframe's monthly fees.

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 applications 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 it is about 30 percent smaller.

"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 size and price. It introduces a lower-entry capacity of 26 MIPS," said Colette Martin, product marketing director for IBM's zSeries.

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 designed to integrate Web applications with existing applications residing on the same server.

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

But Sun officials think time ultimately is on their side. They believe that, over the past few decades, many of the IT workers experienced on mainframes are retiring, with few people left to step in to replace them.

"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 global marketing strategies.