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Mainframe shops hang on–for now

Connecting mainframe databases to the Web is nice, but mainframers want more.

Not only is the mainframe not dying, it’s growing. But is it the right kind of growth, and is it sustainable?

According to a recent survey by BMC of over 1,300 mainframe shops, 63% expect the platform to grow and attract new workloads, compared with 32% that consider it a legacy platform, and just 3% that are planning a mainframe migration. That comes as good news for BMC, of course, with its deep mainframe roots, but mainframers fret that not enough net new workloads are coming to the platform.

Most growth appears to be coming largely from the “Webification” of existing databases. Miami Dade County, for example, runs a pair of IBM z10 BC mainframes and has grown its mainframe usage from 123 MIPS in 1990 to 1,138 today, with the vast majority of that coming from exposing CA IDMS databases via IBM WebSphere, said Adrienne DiPrima, manager of strategic technical support for the county.

The list of services the county offers its citizens that are enabled by the mainframe is long–tax collecting, property assessments, garbage pickup, general ledger, to name a few–but “we don’t actually create any new business apps running on the mainframe,” DiPrima said, pushing it out to Oracle and SQL Server environments running on open systems.

That’s a shame, in DiPrima’s book, because the mainframe is so solid.

“I really am a mainframe bigot because it never goes down. I don’t ever have to reboot or reload the operating system on the first Tuesday of each month. It’s just incredibly stable.”

She also has a vested interest in the success of the mainframe. “From a personal perspective, it’s where I grew up,” she said.

Mainframe software vendors confirm that development for traditional z/OS mainframe operating systems is drying up.

“If you’re talking about the old-style mainframe that we’ve all known and loved, transactions are growing, but there’s not a lot of new development,” said Mark Combs, distinguished senior vice president for mainframe at CA.

One exception may be the area of business process management. Earlier this month, IBM announced BPM Advance for z/OS 7.5, the integration of its old IBM WebSphere Process Server and BPM assets from Lombardi, which IBM acquired in 2009.

“Our customers want to leverage assets they already have–not just data, but the hardware itself,” said Damion Heredia, IBM head of BPM product management. As such, this release executes business processes directly on z/OS, leveraging existing mainframe assets like copybooks, DB2 and COBOL series. Heredia said customers should expect further BPM products for z/OS this fall.

IFLs, zLinux show the way
But in other realms, most new mainframe development appears to be going to the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFLs) and zLinux. Introduced more than a decade ago, IFLs are a central processor dedicated to Linux, and Combs said interest in the platform has spiked in the past couple of years.

ZLinux, which crosses traditional IT silos, initially faced some internal opposition, and needed to mature before cautious mainframers adopted it, Combs said. At the same time, “the recession really focused people on cutting costs in their environments,” which IFLs have the potential to do, Combs claimed. “Big companies looked at that, and they overcame the political battles.”

Accordingly, CA expanded its mainframe zLinux portfolio this summer with CA VM:Manager Suite for Linux on System z and a new capability for CA Solve Operations Automation.

IFLs and zLinux are a growth target for Miami Dade. The county began using IFLs in the 2004 timeframe to transition away from old 3745 communication controllers with a software emulator running on zLinux. More recently, the organization deployed the Cognos business intelligence suite on zLinux.

Another possibility is to move monitoring software on to zLinux, DiPrima said; for example, the central dashboard to its Tivoli suite. “I want one place where all the red lights show up,” she said, adding that the mainframe makes the most sense “since it’s the most stable.”

Slowly, surely, growth adds up 
Quiet as it may be, continued mainframe growth has quelled most talk about the mainframe’s impending death.

That trend is reflected in BMC survey data, which shows that the number of mainframers that say they are moving off the platform has dropped to just 3%, down from 6% a few years ago. That could be because those that talked about moving have already done so, and are therefore no longer captured in BMC’s survey, but Robin Reddick, BMC director of mainframe service management marketing, doesn’t think so.

“About four years ago there was this big initiative to move off the mainframe, and the big vogue was to go to Linux or Unix because people thought it was going to be a lot cheaper,” Reddick said. “Well, it wasn’t a lot cheaper–you needed a lot of people and you didn’t get the same level of service.”

IBM further quieted the critics last year, when it announced the zEnterprise and zBX, its cross-platform extension designed to bring open systems under the mainframe purview, and keep the mainframe relevant into the next decade.  

There’s only one problem. While zEnterprise adoption is in full swing, according to the BMC survey, the zBX has thus far failed to ignite mainframers’ passions.

Fifty-one percent of respondents indicated they were extremely or very likely to implement a zEnterprise this year, but only 5% of those had similar plans for zBX.

Miami Dade, for one, is in no rush to buy a zEnterprise, with zBX or otherwise. “As a county agency, capital expenditures are extraordinarily painful,” DiPrima said. The organization bought its z10 in 2009 with the mind to keep it through 2014, and is now looking to extend that to 2015.

So, if IFLs are any indication, we predict healthy adoption of zBX five to 10 years from now.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, Executive Editor at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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