Energy efficiency vs. price in server market
The question becomes, then: When are people going to take a step back and acknowledge that there are some things we just have to do for the good of the country, the data center, and the environment? It's important to look at the power costs over the life of new equipment because it's becoming a significant cost. If a vendor can save you money at the point of purchase, but another is going to be cheaper over the life of the system because it's more efficient, it's better to spend the money upfront and get the more efficient system.
Mainframe sales increase quiets skeptics
I think that this is the result of a couple of things. First, people want the industrial strength the mainframe offers. And second, the cost has come down with the release of the Business Class models. Though the price-comparison might still favor x86 servers, the price differential is not as great as it used to be. Obviously, you're not looking at the cost of a mainframe versus the cost of a Wintel machine. But if you're a shop that's running hundreds or thousands of Intel servers, in theory the mainframe could end up being cheaper and more reliable.
Despite the growth in mainframes, there is a misconception that it's a dead-end career. A couple of meetings ago there was a recent college graduate who went to work for a company as a junior system administrator. He said that his mainframe job had been great. He had two promotions, went to training classes, and he was doing really interesting work. All of his friends in college told him that he was crazy going to work for a mainframe group; that it was the old school, the dinosaur. But those guys who ridiculed this young person were still looking for a job.
Another part of the problem of finding people to work on mainframes is that major media outlets said the mainframe was dead and people believed it. The zNextGen initiative is bringing in new mainframe people, though. But the truth is that it's as hard to get a good Windows admin as it is to get a good mainframe system programmer these days. There are lots of people out there who're looking for work on the Intel boxes, but they do not have the skill sets. Being an MCSE doesn't equal competence. We've been looking for a senior Windows sys admin for close to 6 months and we still haven't found a satisfactory candidate. It's not easy to find people with adequate skills and work ethic to work on Windows or the mainframe.
The dot com bust scared a lot of people away and now there's a shortage of good IT personnel. The same thing happened when I was in college years ago after the aerospace meltdown. PhD engineers were driving taxi cabs and there was a lot of negative hype that a career in engineering was dead. I went into engineering anyway and I ended up with a pretty good career. Sometimes the popular press doesn't get it right.
Storage, compliance also discussed
Another huge conference topic was the tremendous growth in storage. People realize that you can't keep adding disc drives, so we need to come up with new strategies, whether it's information lifecycle management, hierarchical storage management, migration or something else to deal with large amount of data. In terms of information lifecycle management, IT managers need to ask users if they really need to keep everything forever and tag files with a lifetime so it can be dealt with in a timely fashion.
But it goes beyond a storage issue to an issue of legality. Compliance auditors are looking out for people who're keeping things longer than they need to. Companies should have record retention plans outlining how long they keep files. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) says it's legal if you have a record retention plan and you follow it. Where people get into trouble is when a subpoena comes in and they realize, according to their record retention plan, that they've kept files longer than they were supposed to. Once that subpoena comes in, it's too late to start deleting.
There are still some bugs to work out on the technological approaches to solving this problem. People are still asking if we can get more storage in a smaller space. What's at issue is that storage gets heavier and heavier and the data center floor might not be able to physically hold it. I spoke to someone at the meeting whose company brought in a brand new high-density storage unit. They wheeled it onto the data center floor and they came in the next morning to find that their floor had collapsed. No one thought to find out how much weight the floor could hold.
There were many other sessions at the Tampa conference ranging from SOA to security to Linux on the mainframe. The next event is scheduled for August in San Diego, so if you missed this one, there will be another chance to get more information on the topics discussed here or to check out any of the many other sessions. As I said before, when you get down to it, it's a pretty inexpensive education. And the one tip you pick up could end up getting you a promotion – it happened to me and it can happen to you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Rosen is the immediate past president of SHARE Inc. Currently, he serves as the CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.
This was first published in February 2007