People still use mainframe

IBM

In the past few years, one had at times the impression that the mainframe was really being pushed to old age. Machines based on the x86 standard seemed to be preparing to take over the traditional tasks of the mainframe completely. The advertising lyric of the Dells, Hewlett-Packards (HPs) etc. wanted to make believe that the mainframe was obsolete. Everything that it could do, its own servers would do.

It wasn't that easy after all. Surprisingly, the mainframe platform has experienced something like a second spring in recent years. But the good sales figures with the System z machines from IBM, meanwhile almost the sole supplier of such monoliths, cannot hide the problems. Big Blue has to find a way to keep existing large users in line. In addition, it is important to convince new medium-sized customers with a conclusive cost-benefit calculation. In addition, the mainframe provider must not abuse its monopoly position.

For a long time, the mainframe seemed to be obsolete. First, the client-server concept of the 1990s made it possible to set up small IT infrastructures easily. With the advent of the internet it was called "The Network is the Computer!" (Video) and IP networks were and still are preferably set up on a Unix basis. Medium-sized customers said goodbye to their big planes and preferred to run their applications on Windows and Unix / Linux platforms.

But times have changed. Today there is no longer any competition for IBM from Amdahl or Hitachi. Only the BS2000 forge Fujitsu still offers servers of the mainframe class. Today the blue giant leads a solid monopoly existence with solvent major customers, who mainly come from the banking and insurance sector. Everything seemed to boil down to mainframes being reserved for the really big ones, because this clientele needs the special services of a mainframe environment such as high computing power, reliability and security and because the migration of their older applications to other platforms is not financially worthwhile - for the time being.

Solid monopoly

But for some time now, Big Blue has been surprising with reports about medium-sized customers who, instead of doing away with their old irons entirely, prefer to replace them with newer models and save a lot on operating costs in the process. Has the mainframe, often called the "dinosaur of IT", been declared extinct too soon?

  1. Inventory with asset management
    Step 1: The data center operators must completely record and document all devices and systems, hardware and software.
  2. Check outsourcing
    Step 2: As an alternative to in-house operation, complete or partial outsourcing should also be considered.
  3. Standardization as a goal
    Step 3: Data center operators should work towards a standardized IT landscape with uniform licenses and uniform versions.
  4. Keep an eye on costs
    Step 4: As a rule, buyers should ensure that they buy devices that are as slim as possible and with low consumption.
  5. Better utilization with virtualization
    Step 5: To optimize hardware, you have to reduce it. This works with several virtual servers on one physical device.
  6. The right cooling concept
    Step 6: By using the computers more efficiently, the number of all pantographs can be significantly reduced.
  7. Plan power consumption
    Step 7: Data center operators must realistically plan the guide values ​​for power consumption per square meter of data center space.
  8. The right dimension
    Step 8: A room concept helps to coordinate the existing rooms, air conditioning as well as systems and devices.
  9. Monitoring
    Step 9: Comprehensive monitoring should include the computer pool, power supply, cooling systems and UPS systems.

"Dinosaurs survived for more than 120 million years, and people very often forget that," says Josh Krischer, owner of a management consultancy specializing in data center issues. In his opinion, towards the end of the 80s, IBM itself had lost interest in selling mainframes for a few years. After Amdahl and Hitachi had given up their ambitions in the mainframe market, so that there was no longer any fear of competition from IBM-compatible machines, the blue giant shifted its focus to the most profitable operation of a technology that was supposed to be running out.

Six years ago, however, IBM redefined the status and further development of the mainframe in a position paper called the "mainframe charter". This computer world is now recognized as a strategic platform in IBM's product portfolio. It is also decided to provide technologies for these systems in the medium term to reduce operating costs, to promote the development of new applications, to expand the service and to endeavor to disseminate know-how.

Virtualization isn't new

The technologies that dominated the headlines in the following years - virtualization, server consolidation, cloud computing - made the mainframe a strategic platform for many users too - although it should be noted that a topic like virtualization has been around for decades the mainframe was introduced. This time, however, it was in a different context than in the 70s and 80s of the last century. Mainframe users have always appreciated the proverbial reliability and scalability of their infrastructure. However, other platforms now also offer this. Any deficits in these disciplines can often be compensated for by lower operating costs and other technologies.

The magic word in connection with IBM's success reports on new mainframe orders is always "consolidation". Instead of maintaining huge server farms with distributed structures, mainframe users concentrate many applications on a single system. This not only makes administration easier, it also lowers license fees for company software. Since this obolus to IBM is usually billed per processor, the bare numbers speak against distributed structures with many servers and even more processors. The use of less powerful processors, such as those used in mainframes, lowers the application costs per user.

Large applications such as merchandise management and administration systems benefit from this property. The city of Gelsenkirchen, for example, expanded its SAP infrastructure last year, but at the same time reduced its operating costs. She did it by replacing her old z990 mainframe with a System z10 series mainframe. The cost advantages result primarily from the fact that numerous SAP modules run on virtual machines under Linux. Both this and the database software DB2 do not use the main processors, but processors called specialty engines. Big Blue estimates much lower license fees for them.