Monday, 24 November 2008

The Sun shines out of mainframes

Earlier this month, IBM and Sun Microsystems announced that a mainframe version of Sun’s OpenSolaris operating system was available for download. The announcement wasn’t completely unexpected because it had been demonstrated in November 2007.

The port of the OpenSolaris operating system to the mainframe was made possible by a company called Sine Nomine Associates, which is also developing a Java software port to the mainframe.

Solaris you’ll recall already runs off Sparc platforms and can be found on x86-based machines.

So how does it work? Well it doesn’t just sit on the big iron like z/OS, it makes use of z/VM. Using z/VM allows many virtual OpenSolaris images to run simultaneously. Now VM itself has had a bit of a chequered history at IBM, with efforts at times to remove it, and other periods when its development was really rather ignored. Which all seems rather strange with hindsight when nowadays everything can be virtualized – even your laptop at home! I’ve always been a big fan of VM – in fact I wrote two books about it many years ago. (Archivists might be able to find you a copy of VM Performance Management and Introduction to VM.)

So porting OpenSolaris to a mainframe is an interesting technical challenge, but why should non-techies care? The answer is the ability to do more with less. Mainframes are very good at maximizing asset usage and exceptional system performance figures. Moving to a single mainframe probably allows the removal of numerous smaller servers and a “green” benefit of less heat produced and less energy utilized. It also helps to reduce costs and possibly even reduce headcount.

This is good for Solaris users, but it’s also good for IBM. IBM needs a way to get new people to buy mainframes, so encouraging banks etc to upgrade to a mainframe has got to be good for them. Obviously the current economic climate isn’t good for banks! However, history shows these downturns in the economy pass within two or three years. IBM is playing the long game and hopes that when companies do have money to spend they (IBM) will be the organization the money is spent with.

There must be some organization out there that is working on a port of Windows server to VM. It would be really interesting to hear about that. Or perhaps the Microsoft code is so buggy and convoluted it’s an impossible task, even for the excellent z/VM.

And finally, don't forget about the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook 2009. Last year's issue is still available at The annual user survey of mainframe usage is at - please let us know how you use your mainframe. And vendors, consultants, or service providers, can get a free entry in the vendor directory section by completing the form at Plus there are advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

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