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IBM Initiatives Attempt to Keep Mainframe Computing Relevant as It Turns 50

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As mainframe computing celebrates its 50th anniversary, IBM has announced a series of new enterprise cloud offerings for the many companies still relying on mainframe technologies, including a System z-based integrated system, and new solutions that bridge mainframe and mobile computing.

It may surprise some people to know that mainframe computing continues to be used in industries such as banking, finance, healthcare, insurance, utilities, and government. Until the mid-1990s and the growth of open systems, mainframes were the only viable way for large business to handle large and complex applications. While not known for being bleeding edge, mainframes are known for their reliability and stability.

Now, many of the top banks use mainframes, and a majority of the global Fortune 500 companies are System z clients.

The IBM Enterprise Cloud System

Announced this week, the new IBM Enterprise Cloud System combines System z hardware, IBM storage and IBM cloud management software into a single Infrastructure-as-a-Service solution. This provides an integrated cloud platform for running System z and Linux applications on what’s essentially a mainframe in the cloud. It also features flexible pricing based on compute consumption rather than system capacity.

A single system can support up to 6,000 virtual machines in a secure multi-tenant environment. This greater efficiency and scalability can cut the total cost of some Linux on System z cloud deployments by up to 55 percent less than comparable x86-based cloud infrastructure. And because the System z family maintains full backward compatibility, most software written for the System/360 from the ‘60s and all its descendants can run unmodified rather than having to rewrite software for Linux.

Making Mainframe Technologies Accessible

To make mainframe technologies more financially accessible to Managed Service Providers, IBM has also announced the new “IBM MSP Utility Pricing for System z” pricing model where users pay for service consumption, allowing MSPs to focus on building their business rather than worry about the cost of their infrastructure.

Given that younger generations of IT staff are largely unfamiliar with mainframe technologies, IBM has also launched the “IBM Academic Initiative” to provide schools with the education resources they need to educate students on key enterprise computing technologies including mainframe. IBM is also providing three free online courses this year through partnerships with Syracuse University, Marist College, and the Linux Foundation.

Mainframe Enabling Mobile

The new IBM System z Solution for Mobile Computing is designed to help businesses rapidly integrate and deliver new mobile and cloud services on System z operating system z/OS. A new version of IBM CICS Transaction Server – designed for high-volume online transaction processing – provides enhanced mobile and cloud support.

The growth in the number of mobile transactions is a boon for businesses, but is also costing organizations transaction costs as well as costs related to integrating new mobile applications. IBM System z users can now expect to save as much as 60 percent on mobile transactions because of greater processor efficiency.

A good example of the use of mainframe for mobile in the real world is First National Bank. FNB created a series of mobile banking tools for the African market. It used IBM System z to handle the load and provide insights on its services to improve its business and provide a better overall customer experience.

“Mobile transactions have grown at an exponential rate as we expand our range of services, client experience and reach, far outpacing growth in traditional transactions” stated Jay Prag, CIO of Hogan Channels at FNB South Africa. “The mainframe environment allows us to dynamically scale and grow in a cost efficient manner”

Faster Data Processing and Storage for Mainframe

IBM is putting a great deal of effort into making sure mainframe doesn’t lag behind in some key technology areas.

IBM announced that flash storage (on IBM DS8870) can provide up to 30-times better performance than traditional hard disks.

For big data processing, IBM worked with Veristorm to develop the industry’s first commercial Hadoop for Linux on System z known as “zDoop”.

IBM has also released “WebSphere Liberty z/OS Connect” that helps devices easily and securely access z/OS assets, and “zSecure SSE” helps prevent malicious computer attacks with enhanced security intelligence and compliance reporting.

All-in-all, IBM is trying to make people think about mainframe as more than a legacy technology that businesses are stuck with, but rather something that offers discernible benefits.

About the Author

David Hamilton is a Toronto-based technology journalist who has written for the National Post and other news outlets. He has covered the hosting industry internationally for the Web Host Industry Review with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. David is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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