IBM's T-Rex Takes Off in Unexpected Locale

IBM's new z990 mainframe may be little-known in the US; the company announced its latest Linux-on-Mainframe "win" from overseas

In its April, 2003 TechStrat survey of 100 U.S. and European CIOs, Merrill Lynch discovered that the vast majority of mainframe shops weren’t planning to purchase one of IBM’s new z990 mainframes over the next calendar year.

In fact, Merrill found, less than half (46 percent) of mainframe shops were even aware that a new mainframe system would soon be in the offing.

Among the other findings: more applications are moving off (78 percent) than on (22 percent) the mainframe, and most shops aren’t maxing out their existing MIPS capacities. As a result, Merrill first vice president Steven Milunovich wrote that “the future of the mainframe is not bright.”

As it turns out, Merrill may simply not have surveyed CIOs in the appropriate geographic region. The mainframe appears to be alive and well in Southeast Asia.

IBM last week announced that Softbank Uway, a Korean company which specializes in processing online university applications, had tapped one of its new z990 systems to replace an assortment of 45 database and Web servers based on hardware from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

When it’s complete, Big Blue says, Softbank Uway’s new z990 system—which features Linux images enabled by means of IBM’s z/VM virtualization technology—will improve the performance and availability of the company's university admission service by integrating dozens of physically dispersed database and Web servers onto a single z990 mainframe.

The company also expects that its consolidated z990 solution will enhance workload management. If the resources of one of the mainframe system’s logically partitioned database servers are overloaded, the z990 can automatically utilize the untapped resources of another virtual server to accommodate the increased workload.

In a statement, Seung-ha Yang, executive director of Korea zSeries operations for IBM, spun the deal as a vindication for Big Blue’s Linux-on-Big-Iron strategy. "We believe that Softbank Uway's decision demonstrates that small businesses and Web-based companies are increasingly recognizing the advantages of Linux on the IBM mainframe," he said.

Market research firm Gartner Inc. has found that Linux account for 15 percent of new MIPS shipped in 2001 and 20 percent in 2002—although much of the Linux-driven uptick in 2002 happened in the form of trial systems. The firm estimates that more than 200 IBM mainframe customers have deployed at least one Linux application on mainframe systems in production environments. Moreover, Gartner indicates, another 400 are in the process of implementing Linux-on-mainframe applications, or are at least evaluating doing so.

For its part, Softbank Uway expects the system to be fully operational by August, when universities typically receive new applications for admission.

IBM said that the Korean company selected its “Shark” TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server Model 800 and TotalStorage Enterprise Tape Drive 3590 solutions for data storage consolidation and back-up.

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About the Author

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