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IBM mainframe chief guarantees power savings

Matt Stansberry
Big Blue has been conspicuously absent from the recent buzz about the data center energy crisis. But that's all about to change, according to Jim Stallings, general manager, IBM System z Mainframe, who's

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on a mission to bring the mainframe to new customers. In a recent phone interview with SearchDataCenter.com, Stallings said IBM is ready to put its money where its mouth is and back up energy efficiency claims. This is a selection from that conversation.
Jim Stallings

I've seen it published that the mainframe saves energy over distributed computing. Can you tell me where that comes from and how that's been quantified?

Jim Stallings: We're beginning to talk more about it -- some analysts are publishing information; there are also some case studies coming out. We're ready to commit to customers guaranteed savings on energy.

What's gotten everyone's attention is that energy costs are going up. Customers are saying that the cost to power equipment is more than the cost of purchasing the hardware. By 2009, if the historical projection of energy prices continues, the predicted annual expenditure on servers will be $20 billion dollars -- the expense to power them will be $40 billion.

Clearly, demand for processing power and energy is going to keep growing. What is the mainframe's role?

Stallings: The mainframe handles growth in two ways. One is adding more books or processors to an existing machine. You're adding MIPS to the same mainframe and you are able to run more workloads without adding more floor space or another server to suck up environmentals. Because, it's not just the box -- it's the power, cooling and lighting that support the servers.

The other thing is specialty engines. You can essentially virtualize what would have been hundred or thousands of x86 or blade workloads onto a single [mainframe] platform. You save energy by turning off all of these Intel [Corp.] processors. The mainframe is able to virtualize Linux, Java and DB2 workloads -- it's an amazing thing.

The mainframe revenue numbers have looked really good since the launch of the z9. Is this taking anyone at IBM by surprise? What do you attribute the growth to?

Stallings: We're not surprised by the growth. We're pleased by it. IDC recently reported that the mainframe has now grown to 34 points of market share on the high end. We expect that to continue. What's been surprising is that there are people making a living saying distributed computing is the answer.

We've been making investments in this platform for growth since the late 1990s, bringing out features like IFL [for Linux], the Zaap and Ziip specialty engines.

People in enterprise environments are finding out they need to protect their data. Every single day there are stories about information getting compromised. Companies feel vulnerable. A lot of our clients are consolidating what used to be distributed systems for this reason. The growth is driven by things like the [mainframe's] ability to encrypt data on tape, having the mainframe act as the [encryption] key manager.

Speaking of growth, IBM launched the new Business Class mainframe earlier this year to get small businesses onto the mainframe. But is the $100,000 price tag still too large for the SMB [small and midsized] market?

Stallings: No it's not -- not at all. These companies with less than a billion in revenue, they're spending more to acquire Intel servers. If they're running SAP for example, they've got dozens of servers and the operating costs are several million dollars per year. If the customer is growing 10%-15% per year, what is the incremental cost of adding more servers?

It takes 30 days in these companies just to provision an [Intel] server sometimes. You could have overnight demand for a product, and you've got to provision those servers. You could provision a Linux server on the mainframe in nine seconds.

IBM has been banging the drum to bring new blood into the mainframe. Why is this important?

More mainframe info:
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Stallings: One of the reasons is the growth we've been talking about. Customers, as they grow, need skills. We've seen the growth coming, and partners and customers are saying 'let's build skills together.'

IBM, universities and clients have teamed up to create a curriculum at 300 universities. [The customer] makes a commitment to hire the graduates at the end of the program, and IBM commits to hire any that want to work [at IBM]. We have15,000 new students in the program after two years. We said we'd do 20,000 new students in five years. We're way ahead.

Every time I've written about the possibility of a mainframe skills shortage, I get nasty emails from mainframe operators who are out of a job. What's your reaction to that?

Stallings: Sometimes it's location. Some of our largest customers have grown through acquisition and consolidation. Sometimes companies will have 25 data centers, and after an acquisition they might only need two. But we have a demand.

Is application modernization a big issue for mainframe shops?

Stallings: The answer is yes. We're seeing it in banking, other mature industries. They're saying 'I want to webify and move as much as I can to Web services, and I want to do that on the mainframe. And by the way, I also want to consolidate my Unix environment.' It's triggering a set of opportunities for us to talk about bank of the future. How do I leverage a Service Oriented Architecture [SOA] and not have to rewrite all the COBOL? You can do that with the mainframe with zero downtime and security.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, Site Editor


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