Mainframes set to be around for a while yet

Reports of the demise of the Big Iron are greatly exaggerated

Some industry observers still like to talk down the prospects of the mainframe, saying it is not the corporate platform of the future, but the Big Iron keeps on ticking.

A case in point: According to a recent study of 300 end users by researchers at IDC, nearly one-half said they plan to increase annual spending on mainframe hardware and software over the next five years. Only IBM mainframe users were included in the survey population.

Many mainframe users reported they can plan another wave of investments in the System z platform over the next two to five years, citing the system's high availability, reliability, and security for mission-critical applications as major drivers, IDC says.

"Customers continue to collect dividends on their System z investments, which makes future investments much more palatable, even in difficult economic times,” says Tim Grieser, programme vice president, Enterprise System Management Software at IDC.

The study says IBM’s strategy of building specialty processors for the mainframe, such as the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) for ERP and CRM transactions and z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) processors for Java and XML transactions, are key to ongoing success of the platform.

IBM has engaged in some price cutting to make some of these processors more palatable though. According to Network World, IBM has cut in half prices for some specialty Linux processors. IBM acknowledged "new pricing" for the IFL processors, but did not offer specific numbers. Another source claims the price changed from $90,000 to $47,500 for IFLs running on the System z Business Class mainframe.

IBM’s mainframes haven’t been immune to the economic downturn. This year IBM reported that System z mainframe server revenue decreased 39 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, while overall company revenue declined 13 percent.

IDC however says the mainframe will benefit down the road from these new processors, which will require additional mainframe-related database and storage facilities to handle new workloads.

Still, all is by no means rosy in the land of the mainframe. Another recent study raised an ever-increasing issue – retiring mainframers.

One study by system vendor Shoden found that 96 percent of respondents working for financial businesses said that they are concerned to some degree that with cloud computing and SaaS they will not be able to retain the necessary skills to operate and maintain legacy environments such as IBM mainframe or AS/400.

The study said in the manufacturing sector, 88 percent of IT decision makers admitting to being concerned, while across all the markets polled, the average comes in at 83 percent.

The study went on to state that mainframe technology is as old as the Boeing 747 and, like the iconic aircraft, it is still the default workhorse for many of its original adopters. A similar study funded by CA found that financial services organisations are leading the drive to tackle the shortage of mainframe skills in Europe, where 60% of financial service firms use the mainframe for administering their critical data.

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