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IBM defends cost of buying and maintaining a mainframe

At an event in New York City last week, IBM argued that the mainframe can cost less to own than smaller distributed systems.

NEW YORK -- IBM Corp. held an event last week to promote the mainframe and to defend claims that it's too expensive to buy and maintain.

The event at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City on Thursday had several components, including news announcements and analyst break-out sessions. But IBM's overall message was that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the mainframe isn't as bad as some might think.

"TCO means take cost out, " said Jim Stallings, the IBM System z general manager. "Take it out now." As infrastructure costs, such as power and cooling show, "the acquisition cost is no longer the driving cost of purchasing a server," Stallings said.

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IBM System z9 Business Class mainframe revisited

That acquisition cost has always been an issue for mainframe salespeople. Although IBM sells a smaller mainframe, the z9 Business Class that starts at about $100,000, most customers will shell out at least seven figures for big iron.

Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International, said IBM is sensitive to price criticisms from its competitors.

"They did take a little defensive posture. It was clear they were focusing on HP there," he said, adding that Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has been out in the field comparing the TCO of its high-end HP-UX systems versus the mainframe.

IBM defended the mainframe as a box that doesn't take up much space and is an ideal consolidation platform, especially for Linux. By running virtualized Linux instances on top of z/VM, the mainframe's virtualization operating system, Stallings argued that a mainframe's TCO is better with as few as 100 distributed servers.

And, he said that Linux on the mainframe is gaining steam. About 25% of the MIPS IBM ships on the mainframe run Linux, he said.

But IBM isn't focused exclusively on cost, Iams said. IBM executives also want to promote the unique strengths that System z brings to the table, particularly the amount of throughput it can handle, underscoring its ability to be a strong consolidation and virtualization platform.

IBM isn't conceding the future to distributed systems either. Sitting in the front row during the conference were college students studying the mainframe and wearing T-shirts that read "Master the mainframe."

IBM Destination z: A MySpace for mainframers?

IBM also introduced Destination z, which it bills as an online meeting place for mainframers, business partners, academics and IBMers to come together and talk about the mainframe.

IBM and 28 business partners started the Web site, which has a number of features, including links to business partners' sites, universities offering mainframe courses, case studies, Redbooks, white papers and links to IBM sites where you can buy mainframe hardware and software.

One thing it doesn't have -- or if it does, it's not easy to find -- is an online forum for mainframers to discuss the platform. Still, Iams said, Destination z is a step in the right direction, especially for such a conservative company.

"They have a long way to go," he said. "But at least they've acknowledged that they need to take these steps."

Mainframe software updates

IBM also announced some mainframe software news:

  • Enhancements to z/VM 5.3, the IBM mainframe's virtualization operating system, including the ability to support twice the amount of real memory (256 GB) as the prior version, as well as increasing the amount of virtual memory tenfold to 8 terabytes (TB).
  • An IBM-branded version of zSecure V1.8.1, the result of IBM's acquisition of Consul risk management Inc. in December. Al Zollar, general manager for IBM Tivoli software, said IBM has also begun work on new features to zSecure, which provides insight into what employees are doing, especially users with powerful privileges.
  • IT value-based snalytics, the result of IBM's acquisition of CIMS Lab Inc. in January 2006, which works with Tivoli to determine what IT resources are being used for what business functions.

"A lot of organizations don't really know what IT costs," Zollar said, speaking of IT value-based analytics.

Since acquiring CIMS, IBM has added some new features to the software, said Mark Lynch, a program director in IBM's software group. The most notable feature is full support for VMware virtualization.

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

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