Subcontinental Power Play: IBM Pushes System z in India

Is what's good for IBM's System z sales efforts always good for independent mainframe technologists?

The Indian subcontinent has emerged as a strong market for U.S. goods and not just as a vortex for outsourced services. That's one upshot of a recent IBM Corp mainframe event, held earlier this month in Mumbai. At the time, IBM officials touted India and other emerging economies as potentially explosive markets for U.S. IT goods—particularly mainframe systems.

Up-and-coming Indian companies share many concerns with their established U.S. counterparts, IBM officials claim—particularly in the area of power and cooling. Even companies with little or no Big Iron experience are intrigued by the reduced power, cooling, and administrative costs of the mainframe. "The place we're seeing the first uptake in the Indian market is in service providers. There's a huge amount of mainframe skills [there] because they're doing outsourcing contracts for companies in the United States," observes Randy Daniel, director of System z marketing execution with IBM.

In this respect, Daniel notes, mainframe uptake among Indian customers, as well as in other emerging markets, could follow a familiar pattern. "What they aren't seeing, what they aren't doing, is a lot of in-country work [for Indian companies]. So [these service providers are] buying new mainframes in their shops so they can go after [Indian] customers themselves."

There are a few differences in pain points between Indian and U.S. companies. In the U.S. people costs—i.e., the cost of employing IT technologists to manage and service a platform—are considerably more expensive than they are on the Indian subcontinent. As a result, Daniel says, the mainframe's reduced administrative cost—while still a driver—isn't quite as determinate in India as it is in the U.S.

"In the U.S., we're seeing a lot of interest in the people costs associated with the data center, because your labor costs on a distributed environment versus a consolidated environment can be dramatically higher in the distributed world," Daniel says. "But people costs aren't as big a deal in India right now or in China. On the other hand, energy is important in India, China, and the U.S. So from a [business] point of view, what we're seeing in some of these emerging markets is they're looking at [mainframe customers such as] Citibank and going, 'If we want to compete globally, we've got to be on a platform [like the mainframe] that's recognized for its global operations.'"

According to Daniel, customers in India, China, and other emerging markets have been surprisingly receptive to the mainframe value proposition. He cites attendance at the recent event in Mumbai as a case in point. "We had over 120 CIOs and CEOs of companies from around the Mumbai area and further away that didn't necessarily have mainframes in their shops, but they're primarily an audience … looking to see how the mainframe might be appropriate for what they do." System z general manager Jim Stallings was in attendance, too, says Daniel.

That's another indication IBM is serious about pushing System z in burgeoning and non-traditional markets, Daniel argues. Because so many would-be Big Iron customers have no prior mainframe experience, IBM Global Services has a stake in Big Blue's sub-continental push, too. "There's been a really strong push in the region by the System z team. It's such a big market for us as far as potential growth. One of the areas where they're going to need help on is getting specific projects up and running," Daniel indicates. "So the announcement itself was the consolidation of services that were announced on the platform, so [in that case] we were working together with our services team."

The new mainframe services IBM announced earlier this month include installation, configuration, upgrade, and performance/availability assessment services for DB2 and IMS databases on z/OS and Linux (so-called data solution services). Big Blue also unveiled a set of security and encryption services that tap System z's integrated cryptography hardware and software. Elsewhere on the security front, Big Blue says it will also assist organizations implement their Public Key Infrastructure initiatives on z/OS.

IBM also announced a requisite SOA services for mainframe customers in emerging markets. Daniel says IBM's Getting Started with Services-Oriented Architecture offering incorporates Web services, security, and deployment skills for MQ Series, Enterprise Service Bus, and WebSphere. Ditto for IBM's new Linux-friendly services offering, Implementation Services for Linux, which includes not just installation and tuning, but other configuration or deployment options, too—including high-availability clusters and server consolidation.

The upshot, says Daniel, is that companies in many emerging countries—which skipped the transition from Big Iron to client/server (and back again)—are coming to the mainframe with open and unbiased mindsets.

"I equate it sometimes to what's going on with the wireless market. You've had countries that completely skipped wireline communications, and missed that whole era. We're starting to see a little of that taking place with the mainframe as well. What is happening here is you're seeing that they're much more willing to evaluate as you look at how they do a lot of these new workloads and how they take on significant challenges," he argues.

Daniel concedes that some North American IT professionals harbor a kind of reflexive animosity against emerging markets such as India or China—such markets are typically among the most attractive destinations for outsourced services, after all—but claims that IBM's System z push in these and other emerging economies will ultimately benefit mainframe technologists in more established markets.

"This is really about the future of the mainframe and ensuring its adoption by the widest variety of customers. It's really about introducing customers to the benefits [of the mainframe] that will help them run their business[es] globally," he concludes. "The best way we can ensure System z's future is to show its strong value proposition to these customers [in emerging markets] to ensure that [the mainframe] continues to be the best platform for performance and security and reliability."

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