Monday, 9 March 2009

Windows on a mainframe!

I guess it was bound to happen at some stage. The king of the big iron combines with the ubiquitous little-end operating system. So, at IBM’s SHARE conference in Houston, a company called Mantissa showed the world its z/VOS hypervisor, which allows Windows desktops and servers to be virtualized on a mainframe.

In the past, I’ve blogged about attempts to run MVS or z/OS on PCs, but here is an announcement about doing things the other way round. And if you think about it, it isn’t such a silly idea at all. You can run Linux on a mainframe, and a number of people have Linux on their laptop, so why not run Windows, which most people have on their laptop, on a mainframe?

And before you start giving me the answer to my own question, let me suggest another benefit. Virtualization of servers has been hugely beneficial to large organizations. It’s allowed them to change from a room full of servers (some of which no-one was quite sure what it did) to just a few high use servers, where everything can be completely managed. Running Windows on a mainframe allows all the servers to be got rid of and everything to run from one small mainframe – which must be a model that really pleases IBM and upsets server manufacturers and Intel.

So how does it work? It seems that z/VOS is a CMS application run under zVM. At the user’s end, they need to run Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) client. And as with all virtualized systems, the users don’t need to know anything about the clever stuff that’s happening at the other end.

Another advantage, according to Mantissa, is that the end user can have an operational PC within 15 minutes of starting the set-up process. Plus, because z/VOS supports the x86 architecture, it can also run Linux images – if that’s what you want.

So what about the cost? Well there would be a huge cost saving in running 3,000 Windows seats from a mainframe. Although, I would guess, organizations would be running Exchange server and SQL Server etc on the mainframe. This kind of set up would perhaps remove the need to acquire and maintain desktop hardware and some of the other costs associated with PCs. It would represent the final triumph of client/server computing!

On the downside, of course, the price of a mainframe, even a little one, isn’t cheap.

Theoretically, it is a fascinating proposition. It will be interesting to see cost comparisons between Windows, Virtualized Windows using VMWare (and other similar products), and Windows on a mainframe.

If you’re a company that has multiple platforms including a mainframe, you could soon be able to run Linux, Solaris, and Windows on a single platform – which must introduce cost savings and improvements in management and control.

I look forward to hearing more about the development.

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