Technically it’s the day after the 50th anniversary of the official debut of IBM’s first mainframe computer, but as the System/360 didn’t start shipping until 1965, and competitors had been in the market since the 1950s, I suppose Big Blue can be forgiven for making its mainframe announcements on April 8th, instead of the 7th. These announcements include new mobile, storage, Hadoop, cloud and pricing offerings that indicate the mainframe’s future continues to look bright.
The present doesn’t look too shabby either, even though shipments of high-end systems, including System z, plummeted 28.5% in the last quarter, with the big z dropping a whopping 37% from a year ago. Despite its long history and x86 upstarts, here are more than 3,000 customers and approximately 10,000 mainframes still running hundreds of thousands of critical enterprise applications for financial institutions, federal agencies and others.
According to IBM, more than 70% of enterprise data resides on a mainframe and 71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core businesses on a mainframe. Other mainframe minutiae includes:
-92 of the top 100 banks use the mainframe to provide at-your-fingertip banking services to their customers;
-23 of the world’s top 25 retailers use the mainframe to make sure they can provide what their customers customized service;
-10 out of 10 of the top insurers use the cloud on the mainframe to save money for their consumers; and,
-more than 225 state and local governments worldwide rely on a mainframe to support police and fire departments, utilities, garbage collection, parks and hospitals.
Today’s announcements center around three categories, said IBM’s Deon Newman, Vice President, System z: cloud, mobility, and Linux/pricing. The first System z-based integrated system offering, the IBM Enterprise Cloud System is a Linux-based preconfigured solution that can scale up to 6,000 virtual machines per system and can take out about 55% of the costs of a comparable x86-based solution, he said. The IBM System z Solution for Mobile Computing lowers software costs for mobile transaction by up to 60%, while the IBM MSP Utility Pricing for System z provides consumption-based pricing designed especially to make mainframe technologies more widely accessible to Managed Service Providers (MSPs), and will provide pay-as-you-grow pricing, he added.
While the number of customers that have swapped out their mainframes for x86-based solutions wasn’t discussed, Newman did say there were approximately 3,200 System z customers and over the last two years IBM has added about 260 net-new customers. The ups and downs in mainframe sales are directly attributable to product cycles, he said, and represent a fairly stable pattern.
Refreshes tend to take place every two years, and the first six quarters see strong growth, followed by two quarters where sales dip prior to the next release. “We will see that pattern repeat itself.”
The explosive growth in cloud and mobility are not the only mainframe drivers, said Newman. Complexity and cost are also playing an increasing role. Individually, x86 servers, and VMs, are inexpensive, but when you’re talking about thousands of them and throw in software, power and management costs, and consolidating on a mainframe becomes much more attractive. “It’s a trend we’re seeing over and over again… how to take cost out without reducing service capabilities.”
The mainframe hasn’t made it to 50 without staying ahead of customers’ needs, said Newman, which IBM ensures by meeting with customers twice a year to chart not only the next iteration, but the one that follows. They are really helping us, dragging us forward, he said.
The three areas customers are looking for better solutions includes some version of “cloudifying” their environment. They’re looking to drive efficiency and take out costs, and where mainframe utilization tends to run between 80-90%, the x86 platform is lucky to see 10% utilization, he said.
The second area of focus is mobile enablement with a better end-user experience, and the mainframe is going to look like a very attractive platform, he added. Finally, there is the idea of in-transaction analytics. Companies are focusing on transactions, either to generate revenue, or to stop fraud, and mainframes tend to account for more than 60% of all transactions, with some saying “north of 70%”, said Newman. We’re trying to move the analytics to the data rather than what has been done for decades, moving the data around. Doing so would eliminate latency and reduce costs.
The bottom line, said Newman, is that the mainframe has been helping businesses for decades, and has “continued to stay valuable and a system of choice for clients.”
The Fiddly Bits (& Bytes)
As part of its year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of its first mainframe, IBM has made a number of announcements, including the IBM Enterprise Cloud System, the first System z-based integrated system offering. A preconfigured integrated platform built upon open standards, it debuts along with a new flexible utility pricing model to provide service providers with the ability to pay for Linux based mainframe cloud infrastructure over time based on compute consumption, rather than system capacity.
The second big announcement, the IBM System z Solution for Mobile Computing, helps businesses integrate and deliver new mobile and cloud services leading to a better experience for their customers. It lowers software costs for mobile transaction by up to 60%, allowing businesses to host even more mobile transactions that can access the enterprise applications on the mainframe and further improve services for their customers.
The third major announcement centers around a new pricing model for service providers, to be delivered through IBM Global Financing. The IBM MSP Utility Pricing for System z provides consumption-based pricing designed especially to make mainframe technologies more widely accessible to Managed Service Providers (MSPs), and enables them to pay as they grow.
Other announcements include:
-zDoop software: Working with Veristorm, IBM will provide the industry’s first commercial Hadoop for Linux on System z, allowing clients to avoid staging and offloading of mainframe data to maintain existing security and governance controls;
-Flash for mainframe: The next generation of flash storage on IBM DS8870 can provide faster time to insight with up to 4X the performance over SSD;
-Continuous Integration for System z: Compresses the application delivery cycle from months to weeks or days;
-New version of IBM CICS Transaction Server: Delivers enhanced mobile and cloud support for CICS, trusted by businesses running more than 1 billion transactions per day;
-IBM WebSphere Liberty z/OS Connect: Rapid and secure enablement of web, cloud and mobile access to z/OS assets;
-IBM Security zSecure SSE: Helps prevent malicious computer attacks with enhanced security intelligence and compliance reporting; it can direct security events to QRadar SIEM to provide integrated enterprise wide security intelligence dashboard reporting;
-Three new, and free, on-line educational offerings under the IBM Academic Initiative: These Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) are being provided through partnerships with Syracuse University, Marist College, and the Linux Foundation and will be made available in stages throughout the year.
For more than seven years, IBM has worked with students, professors, businesses and universities to provide mainframe training and curriculum resources to more than 180,000 students at over 1,000 schools in 70 countries.
Finally, showcasing the mainframe’s analytic capabilities, IBM also unveiled three new projects that are either First of a Kind (FOAK) or provide the scientific community with new analytic capabilities to solve difficult challenges:
-IBM Research is working with municipalities and business partners on a FOAK project that can bring data together and help state and local agencies migrate IT operations to a cloud environment running on System z;
-IBM Research and the Arthritis foundation are harnessing mainframe computing power to collect data and develop predictive models that will help doctors know which patients are most likely to respond to anti-TNF therapy; and,
-the Government of Ghana is partnering with IBM and Yale to use the mainframe to help overcome the challenges facing researchers as it seeks to eradicate mother-to-child HIV.