Mainframe’s TCO Still Very Attractive, Analysts Report

Mainframe adoption should continue to take off in both existing and emerging markets.

Last week, consultancy The Butler Group predicted that mainframe adoption will continue to grow apace in both existing markets and emerging markets (including China, India, and South America). The company’s researchers say new and existing customers are tapping WebSphere Application Server on System z as a means to deploy Linux- and SOA-based applications.

What’s more, Butler Group maintains, the mainframe’s integrated power and cooling capabilities, along with its small footprint, appeal to large customers who are attracted by its power-saving features and reduced floor space requirements. Butler Group officials also highlighted System z’s virtualization capabilities, which—thanks to the mainframe’s best-in-class virtualization support (via z/VM)—allow it to host thousands of application or operating system images.

In addition, Butler Group says, mainframe systems require fewer hands than high-end Unix or Windows systems: with labor costs accounting fro 80 percent of the overall cost of running a data center, this is a significant driver for some customers, the researcher claimed.

System z also boasts best-in-class security, with full EAL5 certification, Butler Group officials note. EAL5 is currently the highest security certification available. Elsewhere on the security front, z9 mainframes boast remarkable Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) processing performance: z9 systems outfitted with Big Blue’s Crypto-Express2 PCI-X adapters can process up to 6,000 SSL handshakes per second.

SSL is currently the sine qua non for secure online transactions of any kind.

The Butler Group’s study comes on the heels of research from other industry analysts, including The Robert Frances Group and Illuminata. Robert Frances, for example, highlighted what it said were the mainframe’s reduced power and cooling requirements and suggested that IT organizations—including organizations that were altogether new to the mainframe—“should consider the mainframe as a 'Tier 1' option for hosting new applications and acting as a central hub for security, server pool management, and consolidated workloads.”

Illuminata analyst Wayne Kernochan recently studied Big Blue’s mainframe TCO claims and came away impressed (see ( Among other findings, Kernochan validated The Burton Group’s claim that mainframe environments are cheaper to administer—people-wise, at least—than their distributed Unix and Windows kin.

"System z wins on the basis of administrative costs," he wrote, noting that mainframe administrative costs are simply much lower than are those for competitive platforms. "[I]ts software costs are about the same, and its hardware costs much more. The number of administrators required to run the operating systems, hardware, and networks of the distributed systems increases nearly linearly as the workload scales, while a single mainframe’s administrative costs barely increase at all."

The upshot, Kernochan argued, is that "mainframe people costs are often a fraction of those costs required for distributed systems."

While mainframe hardware is still significantly more expensive than RISC/Unix, high-end Windows, and volume server silicon, it’s vastly cheaper than it was five years ago. "[W]hile still quite pricey by volume-server standards, the price of mainframe memory and other components have been significantly chopped as well, with continuing aggressive price cuts planned," he wrote.

Kernochan also substantiated Butler Group claims that mainframe systems are cheaper to power, cool, and house than their distributed kith.

"IBM’s focus on cooling technology also means that the mainframe should typically require less electricity and air conditioning than many 1U servers running the same workload,” he wrote.

Add it all up, Kernochan concluded, and “mainframe TCO can look quite attractive. Administrative costs are often lower—even much lower—and … hardware, software, [and] physical plant costs are [not] … the drag they once were."

About the Author

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

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