‘Mainframe is alive and kicking’

IBM Z series is formerly and popularly known generically as
the mainframes. ‘Mainframe is dead’, is undoubtedly the numero uno cliché
in the world of IT today. Any discussion on the subject will, in all
probability, start with this statement, even though the mainframe came down the
gallows a few years back. Today, companies across the world, buried under
innumerable servers, are looking at mainframes as the possible savior. Ray
VP, Worldwide Z Series Software Sales, IBM spoke to Shashwat
from CyberMedia News. Excerpts

We all know that mainframe isn’t dead, but then is it alive
and kicking?
Absolutely. Mainframe is indeed alive and kicking. Mainframe revenue is
growing. We are now shipping as much capacity each quarter as has existed in all
the prior 40 years put together. We are growing revenue capacity in an
accelerated manner.

But isn’t the growth in actual terms quite modest?
You could say that the hardware numbers are modest. But we look at total
business contribution to mainframe not only in hardware, but also in
maintenance, financing, software and services terms. When one looks at that
broader stack, mainframe has a substantial contribution to IBM that simply goes
beyond the hardware revenue. That being said, as hardware grows other elements
are also growing. Thus, with each passing day, mainframe is growing in
importance for IBM.

-Ray Jones, VP, Worldwide Z
Series Software Sales, IBM

Can you touch upon how the mainframe has evolved over the
The mainframes that we are delivering today bear no technical resemblance to
the mainframes we were delivering even 4-5 years ago. In terms of hardware,
software, cooling, capacity, applications, everything, there is a world of
difference between the mainframes of today and that of yesterday. So the
evolution has been thoroughly comprehensive in nature and very rapid in the rate
of pace. However, customers who wrote applications that ran on mainframes even
40 years ago are still running today and giving business benefits. For instance,
two years back we had the 40th anniversary of the mainframe and I had interacted
with a customer who wrote the very first database applications for the IBM 360,
in the late 1960s. The applications that he wrote are still up and running and
delivering business value. To sum it up, technology has undergone a complete
change and as I peer into the future, I see a quickening of that change process,
even as we protect customer investment that has been made or is being made.

Can one say that Internet has saved the mainframe from
Clearly, the Internet has had a significant, positive effect on the growth
of mainframes. And the growth is continuing unabated. Customers are of the view
that the more they get Internet traffic, the harder it is for them to associate
revenue for them with a transaction. Years ago, a transaction was a simple
thing; it was money for a good or a service. And it was typically a single
transaction, at the maximum two or three. As the customers see their
transactions volume growing, in many cases faster than their businesses, they
are telling us that we must continue to evolve the mainframes to provide very
low cost per transaction, so that they can balance revenue and costs and deliver
value to the shareholders. So the Internet has helped the mainframe.

How is the mainframe software ecosystem evolving? There is a
feeling that it’s not yet up to the mark.
When I returned to the world of mainframes six years ago, the perception was
a fact. Then, it was clear that if we did not re-engineer the software stack, we
would not be able to participate in continued growth with IT in servers and
software. So I have worked very closely in IBM R&D to systematically do that
re-engineering. Today, the mainframe is highly open, consistent with open
standards, and in many cases it delivers common software with many other
platforms. We envision the mainframe as a super-highway, with on-ramps and
off-ramps. Such that customers are able to shift workloads to the mainframes
when it makes business sense and shift it out when it doesn’t.

Internet has had a significant, positive effect on the growth of
mainframes, and the growth is continuing unabated

Does that mean you are content with the ecosystem?
What I have learnt over the years is that I must never be content. Mainframe
must evolve at a rapid pace. I have regular discussions at IBM and outside on
ways that the ecosystem can be further expanded.

When IBM started offering Linux, it was touted as a Microsoft
killer. What is the current scenario?
Linux as an environment offers customers significant opportunities to port
workloads into environments that make sense for them. We believe that the
openness, with which Linux has been developed, enables the world of IT to add
new capability faster because of the contribution of many software developers
around the world. We do not see Linux simply as a ‘versus Microsoft’
discussion, but as an exciting technology that has its own life, imagination. I
was in the very room when IBM made the decision to put Linux on the mainframe.
We had no idea as to why it would be so successful, as it has been. We thought
we did, but truly we did not. That’s very exciting. We learnt as we went, and
today 25% of all capacity that we are shipping on mainframe, runs Linux

What’s your take on the Linux developer community in India?
Indian citizens have brought incredible value to the design of IBM
mainframes, the lead designer on Z series is an Indian, and the leaders of our
initiative on advanced relational database are Indians. We highly value Indians
as partners and co-workers, as we look to increase the rate and pace of the
mainframe evolution. We knew for a fact that there were immense skills for
mainframes in India, both in Z and in Linux. I continue to hire in India and
hope to keep doing so for a long time to come.

Is China now the test base for the mainframe, considering the
amount of hardware being bought by Chinese companies?
It is. But so are Brazil, Europe, Russia or even India. We see expansion on
all fronts in different ways, globally. We must continue to invest growth all
over boundaries, only then it will be a testament that the mainframe is a living
and breathing ecosystem.

Shashwat Chaturvedi

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