IBM users tell of mainframe gains and datacenter pains

This week's introduction of the System z10 server was IBM's most significant mainframe-related event since 1974, said Steve Mills, senior VP and group executive of the IBM Software Group. Yet did attendees at the launch in New York City agree? Some did, but others weren't so sure.

"Until now, a lot of people wouldn't even think about consolidating Unix servers on a mainframe. The cost just seemed too high," concurred one user, who manages the z10's predecessor -- the z9 -- in his job at a big international bank.

"But here today, IBM is proving the System z's value proposition," said the launch attendee, who asked to remain anonymous.

Speaking with BetaNews on Tuesday afternoon, the user cited IBM's Project Green -- an internal initiative by IBM to expand its data centers without increasing power consumption -- as one indication that there's a real value proposition afoot.

But another customer, who manages mainframes for a large investment brokerage, said he thinks IBM could still do better at swaying some users toward the z platform.

In a presentation earlier that day, Mills had compared this week's z10 rollout as equal in prominence to the announcement of IBM's MVS (Multiple Virtual Storage) operating system, which Mills had seen on another stage in New York some 34 years ago, at the start of his career.

Also during this week's event, Rod Adkins, senior VP for development and manufacturing in the IBM Systems and Technology Group, told attendees that IBM's z platform is designed to meet users' skyrocketing needs for storage virtualization, server consolidation, and energy savings.

Adkins described Project Green, as well as the savings among customers such as the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Hong Kong Broadband. In addition, Buzz Woeckener, another speaker, portrayed the value proposition of z mainframes directly from the perspective of his own experiences as a user.

Woeckener, of Nationwide Insurance, forthrightly affirmed that he's been "passionate about virtualization" ever since installing dual redundant z9 mainframes -- and installing 286 virtual Linux servers on them -- back in 2005.

Woeckener recited industry statistics showing that 70 percent of all servers are utilized at rates of under 30 percent.

Aside from wasting money for organizations, distributed PC servers are difficult to account for and manage, Woeckener suggested. "You (can) even find servers under people's desks," he observed.

Beyond the millions of dollars in cost savings gained from server virtualization and consolidation, the System z is also giving Nationwide reliable database replication across servers in multiple data centers, he contended.

"So if a meteor ever decides to strike (one of the datacenters) one day, within two hours I'm ready," Woeckener quipped.

Aside from doubling the speed of the z9, IBM's new z10 brings new software tools from IBM's Rational, Cognos and Tivoli business units, noted Scott L. Hebner, VP of marketing and strategy for IBM Rational Software, in a meeting with BetaNews at the event.

The two users from the financial services firms later resounded on the datacenter pains and System z benefits mentioned by Wockner and other speakers at the event.

The systems administrator at the international bank confessed that, at his company, energy shortages are now so severe that the datacenter can't run all of its servers at the same time.

"It's like, sometimes you can run your stove but not your refrigerator, and other times you can run your refrigerator but not your stove," he elaborated.

The other user -- the mainframe manager for the investment brokerage house -- told BetaNews that, after his company ran out of space in its datacenter, all of the equipment inside was moved to a different datacenter with more room.

"But then we ran out of space in the new datacenter, too. So now we're using both datacenters -- the old one and the new one," said the customer, who estimated the cost of building a brand new data center at around $60 million.

But this user also had a few constructive criticisms to offer for IBM around further widening the adoption of the System z.

"I'd like to see IBM do a better job of explaining the cost benefits of green computing," the customer said. "And IBM should also be making a stronger pitch to CIOs and Unix people. We're mainframe guys, so we're already convinced, anyway. Now, IBM needs to be getting the CIOs over here, too."

He also suggested that IBM should stop calling the System z a "mainframe," to avoid conjuring up any outmoded associations among customers of the mainframes of the old days.

"They should just call it a 'z server," because that's exactly what it is. It's a server," he said.

On a related note, Tony Iams, an analyst at Ideas International, pointed out that a new generation of customers is now coming along, who lack personal exposure to the mainframes of the past.

Iams told BetaNews that, beyond the benefits of the new System z10, he found the event particularly important in how it spelled out for customers the savings they might gain.

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