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Mainframe updates and predictions for 2010

In 2009, IBM's mainframe subsystems received facelifts and updates. In 2010, mainframers can expect some new hardware and specialty processors, according to Robert Crawford.

The past year was busy for the mainframe and those of us who make our living from it, and 2010 will likely be just as hectic.

Last year, all of IBM's major mainframe subsystems got facelifts. For instance, CICS/TS 4.1 contained new features built to support the last few years' buzzwords, including Web 2.0, business event publishing and dashboards. There are also a few less glamorous updates intended to make CICS more robust and easier to maintain.

IMS V11 became generally available in October 2009. V11 contained features that augmented IMS' service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Java capabilities. As with CICS, there were some other infrastructure improvements to make IMS scalable into the second decade of this century.

Just in case the world was too comfortable with DB2 V9, IBM has started the beta program for DB2 V10, or DB2 X, as they would have it. Despite a name straight from the '90s, the buzz says V10 is a "performance release" intended to streamline the relational database's execution and save MIPS. We'll see what happens.

A new release of IBM's flagship operating system, z/OS, came out too. Z/OS 1.11 continued the trend of breaking through some of the old platform barriers while maintaining backward compatibility. Other areas of growth were autonomic algorithms designed to increase the mainframe's already stellar uptime by finding and fixing errors before they become fatal.

But that wasn't the big news. This year, IBM found its supremacy in the mainframe world challenged on a couple of fronts. In October, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an antitrust inquiry into IBM's business practices due to a complaint filed by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA). The CCIA maintains IBM has used its position in the mainframe world to unfairly block competition and gouge customers.

In the second half of this year, Neon Software released zPrime, a product that allows previously ineligible workloads to run on IBM's specialty engines. This, of course, didn't set will with IBM, as it has heretofore carefully controlled what could run on zIIPs an zAAPs. IBM's initially muted response was replaced by rumors of IBM adding clauses with more specific limitations on specialty engines or refusing to sell them to zPrime customers. In December, Neon sued IBM for anticompetitive practices.

IBM mainframe rumors for 2010
There are rumors of a new hardware family coming out in the third quarter of 2010. The industry nicknamed the new hardware Z11, as IBM hasn't leaked an official name yet. Information is sparse, but the new processors are sure to be accompanied by the requisite leap in processing speed, capacity and, no doubt, price.

Perhaps the tidbit causing the most buzz is the possibility of the new processors being water cooled. This seems like a step back to those of us who were glad when the CMOS processors wheeled into the data center while the pipes and water chillers rolled out. However, there have been a couple of quotes from IBM claiming water is 4,000 times more efficient at cooling than air. If this statistic proves true, then pumping water through processors will be touted as "greener" than blowing cold air under a raised floor.

The new processors bring with them the possibilities of new specialty engines. There are two heard of so far. One is an engine for processing eXtensible Markup Language (XML) messages. Parsing XML is CPU intensive and difficult for mainframes that would rather use a processor for something else. However, an XML processing engine would immediately make the platform more attractive for SOA as long as the major subsystems are ready to exploit the interface. There is no word whether an XML processor would impact parsing already running on zAAP processors.

The other rumor isn't a specialty engine, per se. Instead, it's the ability to put x86 boards into a Z processor frame. Details are sketchy, so there's no telling what sort of interaction or resource sharing there may between the mainframe and x86 processors. There's the possibility it may just be IBM's bid for entering the blade processor space and little else.

Of course, in 2010 we may find out if the DOJ's inquiry turns into any action against IBM. IBM can claim, with some justification, that it faces stiff competition from the distributed world. Therefore, anyone who wants the DOJ to do something will have to convince the feds that IBM's mainframe customers constitute a captive market that has little bargaining power in contract negotiations.

IBM's battle with Neon is only beginning. Later in 2010 we may see the results of Neon's lawsuit. We may also hear about how successfully IBM can quash Neon's initiative by changing contracts and refusing to sell specialty engines to Neon customers. The first half the year may also see if zPrime is going to take off despite IBM's FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) campaign. There are a lot of companies eager to use zPrime that are waiting to see who goes first.

In case you're wondering why I didn't offer any specific predictions, it's because I've had a lot of fun laughing long and hard at other pundits and prognosticators who try to read the future. As the old saying goes, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans." I plan to keep mum.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For 24 years, Robert Crawford has worked off and on as a CICS systems programmer. He is experienced in debugging and tuning applications and has written in COBOL, Assembler and C++ using VSAM, DLI and DB2.

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