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Survey Reaffirms Mainframe Staying Power

The big news out of BMC Software Corp.'s fifth annual survey of mainframe shops is that there is no big news.

An overwhelming majority of Big Iron shops are holding steady on their mainframe investments: 94 percent told BMC that they plan to grow or maintain their existing Big Iron investments. Just six percent anticipate phase outs.

"They said they love it. They're not changing it -- that [the mainframe is] still a key component of their data centers. Over the last four years, that's pretty much held steady: there isn't a change in the attitude or use toward the mainframe," comments Robin Reddick, director of MSM solutions marketing with BMC.

Roughly half of respondents plan to add new workloads, Reddick points out, a finding consistent with surveys past.

"About 84 percent of respondents said that they're either going to hold steady or grow in their MIPS use, and about 50 percent said they're adding new workloads that would continue to grow their MIPS use," she points out.

BMC's 2010 mainframe survey also underscores another established trend: big mainframe shops are more likely to expand their Big Iron footprints; smaller mainframe shops, on the other hand, are more open to phasing out Big Iron entirely. "Fifteen hundred MIPS or lower is where we're seeing movement away [from the mainframe]. If somebody is going to get off the mainframe, it's because … they have a very small footprint. … We've found [that] the shops at 1,500 MIPS or lower tend to be more vulnerable to migrating off the mainframe," she says.

The BMC survey likewise crowned the zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) as IBM's most popular mainframe specialty engine. This isn't surprising, either, according to Reddick. She argues that zIIP is simply more "malleable" than are Big Blue's Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) or zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP) engines.

"Large shops are really heavily using the specialty processors. zIIPs are very heavily used, zAAPs are not used as heavily. They have a different purpose, with XML and Java, while zIIPs can run some of the core z/OS workloads," she asserts, noting that BMC, CA Inc., and other Big Iron vendors have been able to exploit zIIP-offloading in workloads that -- nominally, at least -- aren't specific to data processing.

"At BMC for example, we've zIIP-enabled our MainView Performance Monitor … [so that] we're offloading about 30 percent of the performance monitoring work that's done with MainView on to a zIIP," Reddick explains. "One reason why people love having MainView zIIP-enabled is that performance monitors are typically your highest-consuming workload. On average, it [consumes] about 2 percent of the total use of the machine, so anything that you can do to offload performance monitoring is good news."

Intriguingly, while IFLs are popular, they're not as popular as some might think. In many cases, shops are using IFLs to support mission-critical server consolidation efforts. For this reason, they tend to be most popular in large mainframe environments. "IFLs are not quite as popular [as zIIPs]. They have a very specific use there," she indicates. "[A]bout 30 percent of the people polled said that they are using zLinux, … [and] the reason that they are using zLinux is primarily for consolidation reasons. They're trying to get rid of all of those little servers that they have on the floor and put them on one IFL."

A sizeable minority (10 percent) of shops are also using their IFLs to host internal or private cloud deployments. "That's not a huge number," Reddick concedes, "but it's kind of interesting because cloud is still a relatively new technology and it's clearly making its place on the mainframe." Overall, the survey found that half of mainframe shops said they plan to expand their use of specialty processors.

The BMC survey did yield one unexpected finding: shops this year seem less concerned about an impending mainframe skills shortage. "We have asked every year about the concern about shortage of skills on the mainframe, [and] that is something that people have always cited towards the top of the list [of concerns or priorities]," Reddick indicates.

"This year, the top [agenda] items were reducing costs -- which was cited by almost two-thirds [of respondents] -- data center modernization, and disaster recovery. Only 12 percent said mainframe skills are of concern to them. I think that's the lowest [total] we've ever recorded."

She points to IBM's efforts with its zSeries Academic Initiative and zNextGen programs, which -- in combination with similar efforts sponsored by BMC, CA, and others -- "have helped take away some of the pressure" off of customers.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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