Big Year Ahead for Big Iron

Existing Big Iron shops should continue to add capacity at a healthy clip, and more and more OS/390 laggards will finally make the move to z/OS

If 2004 was a big year for Big Iron, 2005 could bring more of the same. Many mainframe technologists expect Big Iron Linux to once again generate big headlines—even if uptake continues to lag. Analysts also expect Big Iron shops will continue adding capacity at a healthy clip, and that more OS/390 laggards will finally make the move to z/OS.

Bob Richards, an enterprise technologist with a large financial institution, says that the mainframe looms large in his company’s 2005 IT budget. In addition to mainframe management and maintenance, Richards says that his company has earmarked budget dollars for expanding its mainframe capacity, along with (he hopes) a foray into Big Iron Linux.

“[Linux] should be more important than it is,” stresses Richards, who says that his company also plans to begin service-enabling its application infrastructure this year. Elsewhere in 2005, Richards hopes more mainframe ISVs will follow the example of Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) and BMC Software Corp. (among others) by embracing sub-capacity licensing.

Daniel McLaughlin, a mainframe systems programmer with an insurance company formerly based in the Southeast, says that 2005 could be an unusually subdued one for his employer, which recently became part of a company based in the Midwest. “[This year] will be interesting for us as we are now part of a company based in Illinois. What I think we will see coming up very quickly is an upgrade to Exchange 2003 and possibly Windows Server 2003, or whatever the latest version is. We also expect to finally move into z/OS,” he comments.

Of course, the z/OS upgrade follows on the heels of additional Big-Iron investments McLaughlin’s organization made late last year. “We upgraded our mainframe in the latter half of 2004 as part of the acquisition upgrade. We are now looking at newer tape and DASD technologies as well,” he notes.

In the near-term, McLaughlin says, his job appears to be relatively secure. “The mainframe will continue to be part of our future for the next couple of years at least. Beyond that, I can't say as the new owners may decide to absorb our data center into theirs,” he indicates.

Joe Poole, a mainframe systems programmer with a prominent retail chain, says his organization hasn’t explicitly earmarked any budget money for new mainframe capacity.

At the same time, Poole notes, there are ways to make a business case for additional capacity—even in the absence of a budget line item. “In my world of hardware, the best way to get new projects approved is when the old stuff isn't sufficient to the job at hand,” he says. “If you run out of MIPS, it's very apparent. Same thing when you run out of disk space when the pet project of the year is a data warehouse—you'll get more disk approved quickly.”

Richards and other mainframe professionals say they’re frustrated by the lack of uptake of Big Iron Linux, despite all the coverage in the press. For example, most vendors concede that Big Iron Linux uptake has been less than stellar—thus far, anyway. “I think that real wide-scale, massive adoption for servers and data-center-type deployments with mainframes and so on, I still think we’re at the very early stages of that,” said Ed Anderson, vice-president of product marketing with Novell Inc., last November. “We have many, many pilots going on, and we have some big enterprise accounts that are closing.”

Bill Miller, general manager of BMC’s mainframe business unit, agreed. “We … just haven’t seen the customers at the point where they’re investing in Linux on the mainframe—at least not for critical applications where they feel they need to have that enterprise assurance,” he acknowledged.

Mainframe technologists in the field say that’s been there experience, too. “There are those who would welcome Linux, and those who resist. The jury is still out on this one,” says McLaughlin, whose organization doesn’t currently have any Big Iron Linux investments.

About the Author

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

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