The next steps for the mainframe

The demise of the mainframe has been predicted since around 1981, but IBM is hoping to put an end to this discussion once and for all with the launch of its zEnterprise mainframe server.

The company’s latest mainframe is described by Mark Anzani, IBM’s Vice President and CTO of System Z, as being a “new workload optimised system.” Reflecting upon the new offering he says: “It is going to shift the conversation towards who can offer the best deep management of the infrastructure, and also towards the company that can drive the broadest economic benefit.”

So the mainframe is here to stay, and Anzani believes that it’s now more of a question of cross-platform workload economics, claiming that customers now have a greater choice about the platforms that they employ. That’s because zEnterprise allows mainframe customers to centralise the management of workloads that operate on different platforms and architectures, such as Java and Linux. Its introduction is therefore certainly welcomed by many industry experts. There is definitely a hope that the new system will deliver what Anzani describes as “integrated value”.

IBM is working hard to address a key customer concern with its new offering to ensure that the mainframe has a future: the perceived high cost of running, maintaining and operating mainframes.

“We have delivered technologies to make the platform more efficient, using a broad set of workloads,” explains Anzani, before adding that the conversation now needs to turn towards where a particular workload or set of workloads fit best. For example, in the past they have been shifted to mainframes and away from them onto servers. Customers need the ability to move them around whenever deemed necessary, perhaps by distributing the workloads between the two systems.

zEnterprise deserves praise

“Based on what I was discussing with IBM on the launch day of zEnterprise, I would say that it deserves to have a massive impact,” argues Clive Longbottom, head of research at analyst firm Quocirca.

“When you bring the ZBX box together (the Blade enclosure), you have an emerging cloud environment, and the software that comes with it makes it self-learning.” In other words the automation of workload management can make sure that the right workload can be used by the right platform.

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