Monday, 31 March 2008

Watch out for asteroids, IBM!

The new z10 mainframe has been receiving a lot of praise in the media, and quite rightly so. In fact I blogged about it a little while ago, giving a rough guide to some of the announcements highlights. But the fact remains that no matter how powerful the mainframe is, no matter how reliable it is, and no matter how "green" it claims to be, ordinary people – and those turn out to be directors and managers at many companies – feel that the right choice for them is NOT a mainframe. If mainframes were dinosaurs (as they were so often compared to back in the 1990s) then these Unix and Windows-based boxes are the birds and mammals, and along with some volcanic activity (I’m not sure how far I can stretch this analogy!), that small dot up in the sky could very well be an asteroid plummeting towards the Earth.

The Dinosaur comparison has been around for many years and Xephon originally produced its book the Dinosaur Myth over 10 years ago. The latest update, sadly now itself four years old, can be found at Although the figures quoted are out of date, the principle remains true that mainframes are cheaper to run than Unix systems or Windows-based systems. So, the right choice must be a mainframe.

IBM claims that the new System z10 is the equivalent of nearly 1,500 x86 distributed servers. They also say it has an 85 percent smaller footprint, and 85 percent lower energy costs. So anyone who does the maths (and assuming that IBM’s figures are accurate and not the result of PR company spin and exaggeration etc) would have to conclude that the only sensible choice is a mainframe.

Almost all the Fortune 500 companies (well alright, a very high percentage), particularly the banks and insurance companies and many airlines, rely on mainframes to keep their businesses going successfully. They know that the mainframe has amazing uptime figures – certainly compared to "other" servers. They know that problems with back-ups and restores, change management, etc, etc, were all addressed in the 80s and lessons learned the hard way (then) are now applied as a matter of course. So if the biggest companies in the world think mainframes are the right answer, doesn’t that make mainframes the hardware of choice for everyone else?

So, how come, in a recent search through some Web sites offering IT jobs in my area I found almost all of them were for companies without mainframes? There were Unix jobs of all sorts and Microsoft Server experience seemed to be highly desired. The programming jobs seemed mainly C (all flavours) with more asking for .Net than Java.

The Mesozoic Era – the period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth – began 251 million years ago and lasted about 186 million years. Just looking at the numbers of people working with computers and what computers they are using, it does look like the era is coming to an end. 186 million years is a long time to be king, I’m just worried that IBM isn’t adopting the right strategy to avoid the extinction-level event associated with this metaphorical asteroid. What do you think?

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