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Mainframe guru looks on as customer base seems to shrink

CA Inc., one of the world's largest mainframe software vendors, is seriously invested in the platform, and that's a good thing. Mainframe revenues have been rising in recent fiscal quarters, in large part thanks to IBM's release of the z9 Enterprise Class and z9 Business Class over the past two years. We sat down with Vince Re, chief software architect for CA, to talk about the revenue numbers, image problems with the mainframe and how the number of mainframe customers is shrinking even though revenue has been rising.

Overall, mainframe revenue numbers are going up. So that's good, right?
If I think about all the mainframe customers out there, the smallest ones at the end of the scale are the ones moving off. The ones at the top that really account for most of the revenue and market share, they are growing quickly on the mainframe. We're talking in the 20% to 50% increase a year in mainframe capacity. So you're losing smaller sites off the bottom, but the biggest customers are growing faster. It might actually be that the number of customers is shrinking.

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IBM is starting to talk about brand new customers to the platform. I think if you talk to anybody in the mainframe industry, we're all cautiously optimistic that maybe the tide is starting to build a little bit. Why should people turn to the mainframe?
It's not just one thing -- it's the whole ecosystem together that's a unique value to customers. The things I like to focus on are the types of workloads you can run on there, the amount of scale you can get, the amount of capacity I can get on one physical box. It can run a nearly 1,000-to-1 range. It can handle everything in one or two cabinets.

Certainly customers, especially enterprise-class customers, like the notion of being able to expand their workloads without having to worry about server sprawl. Availability is closely related to that. There are plenty of mainframe customers that go years at a time without any unplanned outage. Security is another topical thing. You don't hear about viruses and the stream of security patches that you get from, for example, Microsoft. The mainframe has the notion of keeping processes separate from one another so they can't access each other's data.

I think if you talk to anybody in the mainframe industry, we're all cautiously optimistic that maybe the tide is starting to build a little bit.
Vince Re
Chief Software ArchitectCA
You said that the benefits of the mainframe are especially attractive for enterprise-class customers. But how do you convince smaller companies to get to the mainframe?
In a lot of smaller organizations, some of (the reasons why the mainframe is less popular) are because of cost. A lot of it is because of mindshare.

It's not like there is a steady stream of new customers coming onto the mainframe, and this is one of the problems we face. The other side of the coin is that when I look at larger organizations running mainframes for 20 or 30 years, they're not backing away. They're growing their investment in the industry. We haven't found a good way to push that knowledge down. I've heard from some mainframers who say their business ends up migrating off the mainframe because of "management by magazine." Executives will read about another company going to a distributed environment and then send the edict down for their company. How do you deal with that?
I don't like to think that our captains of industry are making decisions based on something they read on an airplane, but it happens. Most people that go through college today, they never come across the mainframe. They can go from nothing to a master's in computer science and never bump into a mainframe, and when they filter into the workforce, it's natural for them to lean toward what they know. Those in the mainframe ecosystem, including us and IBM, we need to capture that mindshare early on in their careers. Otherwise they're going to continue doing what they know. You built a list of the top 10 reasons why the mainframe is growing in importance. Why?
I've been with CA for 23 years now and have been involved with mainframe products for most of that time. One of the things I see in the market is that people have forgotten what the strengths of the mainframe are. We feel like we're on a mission to let people know.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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