When mainframes make sense

For some companies, the costs and challenges of migration make sticking with Big Iron a no-brainer

Not everyone sees the mainframe as a relic of the past. In 1996, motor manufacturer Baldor Electric, beguiled by promises of lower costs and the desire to move to the SAP platform for all its CRM and ERP transactions, left the mainframe in favor of a Windows environment. According to Mark Shackelford, Baldor's IS director, the company was very unhappy with the results.

To serve Baldor’s 50 offices, the company needed a capacity of about 1,300 MIPS (millions of instructions per second), which would have meant hundreds of Windows servers. The pilot Windows system was not reliable at that scale, so Baldor moved to RISC-based Unix servers. That helped, but it still didn’t deliver the mainframes reliability. IT costs began to rise, Shackelford says, jumping from 1 percent of sales to 1.7 percent and was on track to hit 2 percent.

So this past year, Baldor dumped its Windows and Unix servers, consolidating everything onto one IBM zSeries 990 mainframe with 24 Linux and z/OS partitions. Shackelford says IT costs have gone back to 1 percent of sales, and backup windows that took seven hours under the distributed system now take 7 minutes.

Shackelford says IBM’s high discount on SAP transaction processing plays a huge role in keeping his overall costs down. He says he pays about 15 percent of the cost of more traditional CICS and IMS applications, and acknowledges that he might have pursued a different strategy without the discount.

Californias Employment Development Department (EDD), which handles unemployment claims and job training, also explored migrating away from the mainframe. EDD deputy IT director Dale Jablonsky, however, says migrating its thousands of applications and systems would have cost the agency $2 billion and taken 20 or more years. The agency’s TCO (total cost of ownership) analysis showed that mainframe systems are typically no more -- and sometimes less -- expensive than the distributed systems that can handle EDD’s scale of processing. The agency processes roughly 5 million transactions each day, not counting “a ton of queries on DB2,” Jablonsky says.

Still, EDD is modernizing its mainframe systems; deploying Web services and AttachmateWRQ  software to simplify the interface for its 7,000 users; migrating some applications off the mainframe that aren’t part of the core transaction system; and off-loading some databases to eight-way Unix data servers on a SAN. Jablonsky says mainframes and distributed servers all have their place in his environment, based on their relative strengths and costs.

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