z990: Relief and Elation

Users enthusiastic about IBM’s powerful z990

Systems programmers and administrators in existing mainframe shops are excited about the new z990, formerly code-named “T-Rex.”

Take Bob Richards, for example. An enterprise technologist with a large financial institution, Richards already has z900 hardware in-house and confesses that his company “is not presently in need of the z990s.” Nevertheless, he believes the new mainframes are “very attractive for a variety of reasons.” Richards lauds what he sees as IBM’s continued commitment to Big Iron, along with the scalability enhancements of the new system: “For the first time in a long time, IBM has announced a machine that is large enough to collapse the number of physical CECs … that data centers have.”

An OS/390 technical support specialist with an insurance company headquartered in the Southeast agrees. Based on what he sees in the new z990, this long-time mainframe administrator says he believes that “IBM is committed to a 'mainframe' for the immediate future by developing a multi-OS capable platform.” At the same time, this user allows, the new z990 may be too much mainframe for his company, which still runs on a G3-powered S/390 system. “While the announcements are exciting, and the box sounds like a monster, it's far beyond the needs of my company. We will be investigating the 'Z' technology, just on a smaller scale.”

That sentiment is echoed by Kevin Kinney, a mainframe systems programmer with a technology and services company that provides IT solutions to the insurance industry. Kinney acknowledges that IBM’s apparent level of commitment to the z990 “makes him feel good about the future of the mainframe”—even though he stresses that “to those in the industry, it was never in doubt.”

Kinney likes what he sees in the new zSeries systems, but admits that his company probably won’t be upgrading any time soon, either. “We're not currently in the market for a big box, but that's more a function of the economy rather than the state of the industry,” he comments.

The mainframe users with whom we spoke were uniformly optimistic that Big Blue’s new z990 systems could expose the power of Big Iron to the as-yet-uninitiated. The OS/390 technical support specialist introduced above, for example, believes that the new system has a very strong value proposition for mainframe managers, especially in mixed environments. “Customers who have both legacy- and server-based functions will have a single unit solution, replacing some smaller boxes. If I had the option to run my legacy work in one side, and to have additional LPARs supporting a test environment as well as the reduction of brand X servers, I'd do it,” he asserts.

For his part, Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with consultancy Illuminata, says that IBM has been successful in getting customers to introduce new workloads on zSeries. “IBM says that in 2002, new workloads were about 70 percent of revenue, so that’s kind of really the story of the IBM mainframe: They really have successfully gotten new workloads onto the mainframe.”

One significant driver for IBM in this respect has been the success of the Linux operating system, which research firm Gartner Inc. estimates accounted for 20 percent of mainframe revenues in 2002 (http://www.esj.com/news/article.asp?EditorialsID=496). In March of this year, IBM disclosed that it had shipped its 1,000th z800 mainframe (http://www.esj.com/news/article.asp?EditorialsID=505)—an impressive feat, given that the z800, a so-called “baby” mainframe which IBM pushed as a platform for Linux, had been on the market for slightly less than a year.

Moreover, research firm Gartner Inc. estimates that more than 200 IBM mainframe customers have deployed at least one Linux application on mainframe systems in production environments (http://www.esj.com/news/article.asp?EditorialsID=496). Another 400 are in the process of implementing Linux-on-mainframe applications, or are at least evaluating doing so, Gartner indicates.

The upshot, says Charles King, a research director with the Sageza Group Inc., is that Big Blue is in the midst of a “zSeries Renaissance,” occasioned largely by its success in “translating mainframe-computing technologies into mainline business values.”

Even a bit of bad news can’t spoil the party. When, for example, IBM last month reported lower year-over-year revenue for its zSeries product line, the company attributed the shortfall to the likelihood of customers deferring IT purchasing decisions, along with anticipation for the introduction of the z990. A similar trend appeared in late 2000, when customers deferred purchases of S/390 mainframe hardware in anticipation of IBM’s forthcoming 64-bit zSeries mainframes.

What’s in a Code Name

Although he’s impressed with the new z990 systems, mainframe programmer Kinney admits to some skepticism about the direction in which Big Blue will take zSeries—at least now that it’s unleashed its T-Rex: “You have to wonder what they'll call the next piece of hardware,” he observes. “I mean, the logical successor to the dinosaur was the small furry mammal, [but] ‘Small Furry Mammal’ just doesn't have any oomph.”

During the z990 launch event in San Francisco, Bill Zeitler, Senior VP and Group Executive of IBM Systems Group, disclosed that IBM’s next-generation mainframe was originally code-named Galileo. “All of our products in the mainframe series were code-named things like Galileo and Copernicus. Then on March 21st in 2001, Sun ran an ad saying we were dinosaurs and belonged in a museum,” Zeitler explained.

In response, an enterprising IBMer took it upon himself to change Big Blue’s mainframe product code names to those of carnivorous dinosaurs. The z800 mainframe that IBM shipped last year was code-named Raptor, for example. “It kind of caught on so we left it that way," Zeitler said.

About the Author

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