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Workload consolidation attracts new blood to mainframe

At the recent Share conference, the IBM user group covered workload consolidation, Linux on the mainframe, distributed computing and mainframe education opportunities

IBM user group Share recently wrapped up its fall conference in San Diego, Calif., where roughly 2,200 attendees learned about not only mainframe computing but also mainframe education and distributed computing platforms. Session content included new product announcements, system upgrades and everything in between. But a few particulars caught my eye that I'd like to, ahem, share with you this week.

Mainframe sales up thanks to Linux
I had a conversation with Florence Hudson, IBM's vice president of strategy planning, and she said that for the past several years existing customers have made up the bulk of the mainframe's customer base. But this year, said Hudson, the mainframe has acquired many new customers—and not just overseas ones. U.S.-based organizations have spent money on mainframes as well.

More on workload consolidation:
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Fast Guide: Server consolidation

A couple of factors appear to be driving growth in new mainframe customers. IT departments that want to consolidate workloads, for instance, are prime candidates for migration to mainframes. Workload consolidation has been enabled largely by IBM's specialty processors, such as the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processor, which provides Linux capability for mainframes.

The ability to run Linux on the mainframe via the IFL processor has attracted users to the mainframe as a platform for workload consolidation projects. And when users investigate further and see that mainframe management isn't as labor-intensive as it used to be, it only strengthens the business case for IT departments' efforts to advocate the platform to their CIOs.

Indeed, users are still under the impression that managing the mainframe requires a priesthood of 10 lab-coated technicians. But in some cases, you can reduce staff by migrating to a mainframe through workload and server consolidation.

Mainframe education opportunities on the rise
Another phenomenon in evidence at the Share event may correlate to the increase in new mainframe customers: At U.S. universities -- including Illinois State University, North Carolina Central University and Marist College, which all presented at the conference – the demand for mainframe management course offerings have increased.

And the uptick is not just something I noticed at the meeting. Mike Bliss, IBM's director of zSeries marketing and technical support, said in an email that there are more than 325 schools now offering mainframe courses.

I also spoke to members of zNextGeneration, part of Share's mainframe educational initiative, and they said that demand for their talents is increasing. This increased demand is partly because they are learning not only the technical skills but also how to understand and convey the business benefits. Mainframe computers aren't computers for technology's sake; they add value to the business.

Distributed computing and soft skills also on the rise
At this meeting, even sessions with light past attendance saw a growth in audience members. Sessions on the distributed computing platform System x, for example, were filled. Generally, such sessions don't receive a lot of attention, but Share recognizes that lots of users who aren't on the mainframe need information too. A big draw for System x folks was the discussion of Microsoft Vista, transmission control protocol (TCP) and other tools available for data centers.

At Share this time around, I noticed something else. Vendors are coming around to a different way of thinking about whom they need to persuade with their sales pitches. It used to be that salespeople wanted to talk only to financial decision makers (i.e., C-level people and higher-ups in charge of the budget).

But now vendors acknowledge that Share attendees are the technologists and the technical people who have responsibility for the outcome of these decisions on a day-to-day level. They're the ones that use the products and run the business at the ground level. So catering tools and strategies to those folks has become a trend.

And this trend, which I've discussed previously, highlights the need for certain skills among IT folks: IT people need to develop the "soft" skills -- such as communication and business acumen -- to argue effectively for platform migration or software acquisition.

Next time, I'll talk about Share's themes for next year: service-oriented architecture (SOA) and virtualization. Until then, I hope to see you at the next Share meeting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Rosen is the past president of Share Inc. He now serves as the CIO at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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