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By GCN Staff

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Rebirth of big iron?

Having spent so many years charting the rise of personal computers, client/server applications, distributed computing, commodity processors, etc., our eyes sometimes glaze over when mainframe news crosses our desks. But when it keeps happening, we start to wonder if we should pay more attention. Some of the most recent, prevalent examples:

  • Back in April, IBM introduced its new System z9 Business Class mainframe, designed for small and mid-size enterprises. That's right, a mainframe for the little guy starting at $100,000. (Yes, mainframes are still generally pricier per MIP than commodity servers, a major reason they fell out of favor.)

  • On the heels of the new z9, Washington-area services firm and GSA contract holder William Data Systems published the results of a survey it commissioned that found half of respondents expected to increase their use of mainframes, many to meet the demands of service-level agreements (IBM has predicted mainframe processing would double by 2010).

  • And software companies continue to build mainframe solutions. In just the past couple months, CA (the company formerly known as Computer Associates) launched new versions of its CA-IDMS and CA-Datacom mainframe database management systems, a spanking-new BrightStor mainframe encryption program for z/OS application data, and updates to its mainframe identity and access management products.

Really, it's no surprise that mainframes have not gone the way of dinosaurs. They're reliable, which is why so many of them are still chugging away. They're generally more secure than servers. They can run a slew of operating systems, including Linux. And as more agencies gain experience with services-oriented architectures, there will be less need to migrate so-called legacy mainframe apps to new platforms. Just leave them running as they have been for years and use SOA to get at the data.

Long story short, we'll be paying more attention to advances in the mainframe world, and we'd suggest agency IT managers do so, too. In particular, we'll be looking for the compelling reasons and scenarios for choosing one architecture over another, and we'd welcome your thoughts (see the Comments link below).

One thing we seem to hear universally, however, is the concern that if mainframes do stick around, or if agencies start using them more, there's a real possibility we won't have enough qualified mainframe engineers to service the machines. Roughly a year ago, an executive at BMC Software penned an online column about the 'mainframe brain drain.' (BMC has a mainframe software business, so it has a vested interest.)

Between then and now we've heard the concern several times in passing. Then in May, the William Data Systems survey found the same thing. Mary Hegyi, managing director of WDS, said at the time, 'The data from our survey confirms that a collision is coming between the mainframe needs of the marketplace and ability of organizations to service the machines.'

Perhaps a mainframe renaissance if in the offing.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Jul 13, 2006 at 9:39 AM

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