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Mainframe year in review 2006

Matt Stansberry, Site Editor
The mainframe experienced a lot of growth in the last year. This is a review of the stories, technologies and trends that shaped 2006, listed in chronological order.

  February 

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Mainframe management AIOG

The zIIP processor: Last year IBM released a new high-speed data processor for the z9 mainframes. The Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) was designed to centralize data and minimize the need to maintain duplicate file copies. The zIIP is also designed to help free-up general computing capacity on the mainframe and lower software costs for database workloads such as Business Intelligence, Enterprise Resource Planning, and Customer Relationship Management.

The processor is the most significant addition to the z9 since IBM launched the new System z9 mainframe.

  March 

Users kicked the tires on z/VM 5.2: Early adopters of IBM's latest mainframe virtualization software, z/VM 5.2, reported on the experience at the Share user group conference last year and lauded its new 64-bit capabilities. Project leaders from various companies said the increased performance on the release was worth the long hours of working out the bugs.

Testers recommended the new version of zVM to users looking for 64-bit storage relief. According to testers, the new version scales better for large real-memory machines, large memory guests and systems. The final 64-bit code made a huge difference.

Previously, IBM offered partial 64-bit capabilities on z/VM, but operating systems and applications running on the virtual server couldn't access real storage above 2 GB. The latest version offers increased throughput for virtualized zSeries servers with large storage configurations, offering programs on z/VM to access real storage above 2 GB.

  April 

IBM rolls out z9 Business Class: IBM introduced a new model z9, targeted at midsized businesses that can't afford its biggest iron. The z9 Business Class is considered an update to its predecessor, the z890, and IBM boasts it has 75% more processing power.

Some details on the z9 BC:

  • handles up to seven processors, compared to four for the z890,
  • has double the memory, up to 64 GB per server,
  • features 26 millions of instructions per second (MIPS) in a base model, upgradeable to more than 400 MIPS.

    About 18 months ago, IBM rolled out its larger z9-109, now called z9 Enterprise Class, as an upgrade to its predecessor, the z990.But the price tag on that monster starts around $1 million. That is well over the budget of smaller companies that want z9 benefits but don't have the size to justify it. The price for the z9 Business Class starts at $100,000.

      June 

    Mainframe shops scramble to encrypt tapes: Mainframe shops, never known for their rapid embrace of change, deployed tape encryption technology with uncharacteristic speed last year -- sometimes without waiting for their primary storage vendors to support the solutions. Lighting the fire under mainframe shops' derrieres were auditors and executives eager to comply with laws like California's SB 1386, which requires organizations that store sensitive customer information to notify customers of possible security breaches, such as the loss of an unencrypted tape. As of last summer, 18 states had enacted similar laws and federal legislation is on the way. The Federal Trade Commission and organizations such as Visa PCI are also becoming increasingly stringent in their audits.

      July 

    Timmerman to lead Share mainframe group: Martin Timmerman, president of the mainframe users group Share, took over for Robert Rosen last year. Rosen had been part of the mainframe users group for 36 years and served as president for the last two. Since 1978, the group has welcomed a new president every two years. Timmerman had served as Share vice president and director before taking the helm August 18.

      August 

    Indiana BMV moves off mainframe, encounters glitches: It was a daunting task for the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) -- consolidate three customer databases, upgrade from a 1970s-era mainframe in the data center and try to avoid the cliché of making lines at the BMV longer and more unwieldy. A small public relations disaster for the bureau ensued. Customers stormed out, saying they couldn't complete their transactions, and some police officers complained that they were pulling up incorrect information on drivers they had stopped. After a few weeks, state officials said the problems had mostly dissipated.

    New Tivoli software for SOA on the mainframe: IBM rolled out new Tivoli mainframe management software to help sustain heavy transactions that come from using service oriented architecture (SOA) on System z mainframes. IBM said the new software is a result of technology gained from the acquisitions of Cyanea Systems and Candle Corp. in 2004.

    Mainframe SOA - Interest high, adoption low: Despite new tools and capabilities from IBM and a push from Share, the mainframe community has been slow to adopt SOA for solving legacy application issues. In interviews with users at Share conferences last year, not one had implemented an SOA environment in their data centers. Some were in planning stages, while others have only spoken of it generally in the office and have no specific plans.

    Hacker finds security flaw in SNA protocol: At the DefCon USA 2006 hacker conference, Martyn Ruks, a UK-based penetration tester and security researcher, outlined a methodology for attacking IBM mainframes running the Systems Network Architecture (SNA) protocol, the proprietary IBM networking protocol created more than 30 years ago and commonly used by IBM mainframes. Ruks detailed how a script written in the Python programming language allows an individual to query a Data-Link Switching (DLSw)-capable router and allow for information gathering of the router version, MAC address, NetBIOS name and other relevant information as part of the "footprinting," or data gathering phase of an intrusion. Listing several ways to gain credentials for mainframe access, Ruks also spoke about gaining access to routers, including those from networking vendor Cisco Systems Inc. that, if not properly patched, could leak information from DLSw circuits or be directly compromised.

      September 

    IBM mainframe chief guarantees power savings: IBM System z general manager Jim Stallings finally joined the fray over server energy efficiency that has been raging in the data center over the past few years. In a Q&A last year, Stallings said the mainframe saves energy over comparable scale-out computing models and IBM is ready to commit to guaranteed savings on energy. According to Stallings, the mainframe outperforms other platforms on energy consumption in two ways. One is the ability to add more books or processors to an existing machine -- allowing users to run more workloads without adding more floor space or another server to suck up environmentals. Secondly, new specialty engines allow users to virtualize what would have been hundred or thousands of x86 or blade workloads onto a single machine, saving energy by turning off all of x86 servers running Linux, Java and DB2 workloads.

      October 

    IBM upgrades z/OS: Last year IBM updated its mainframe operating system z/OS, aiming to make it easier to manage, especially for those who might be new to the platform. z/OS v1.8 comes a year after the last release of the operating system, which focused on automation. Big Blue said the new version's enhancements include:

  • Support for the z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP)
  • An image of z/OS that will be able to support 4 terabytes (TB) of real memory whenever the mainframe is able to deliver it, an increase from 128 GB in the previous version.
  • A new component called XML System Services designed to help users parse XML documents for use in service-oriented architecture (SOA) environments.
  • RACF support for up to 100 characters, an upgrade from the eight-character pass phrases previously.
  • Other enhancements include faster data replication to IBM storage devices and simplification of the user interface.

    Wachovia in-sources mainframe code maintenance: It seems counterintuitive to hear a story about a company bringing mainframe skills and programming back in-house, but this isn't an isolated incident. Analysts say more companies are bringing mainframe tasks like COBOL code maintenance in-house to cut costs, mitigate risks and restore lost application knowledge.

      November 

    COBOL, Wintel generations must bury the hatchet: Some analysts and bloggers last year made comments suggesting that IT belongs to the twentysomethings, and older IT workers should retire and get out of the way. Those comments didn't sit very well with many in the mainframe community or with Forrester Research Inc. principal analyst Phil Murphy. In a Q&A last year, Murphy explained why that sentiment is both naive and counterproductive, and what the COBOL and Wintel generations can learn from one another.

      December 

    IBM sues plug-compatible mainframe startup: IBM filed a lawsuit late last year claiming that patents for its mainframe operating systems had been violated by a California company that suited them for its own hardware. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based plug-compatible mainframe (PCM) company PSI Inc., was formed in 1999 from the remnants of defunct PCM vendor Amdahl, with backing from Intel Capital and other investors. The machine can run Windows, Linux, Unix and, most importantly to mainframers, z/OS on a single machine.

    Mainframe TCO getting more bang for the buck, analyst report says: Last year IBM reports claimed total cost of ownership advantages as high as 60% in certain scenarios involving x86 servers. Illuminata analyst Wayne Kernochan said those numbers are somewhat exaggerated, but he agrees with the overall premise. According to Kernochan, IBM has lowered the cost of its hardware and software tools. The mainframe also saves on power, cooling and real estate according to Kernochan's report.

    Let us know what you think about this list of mainframe events in 2006; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, Site Editor

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