Mainframe's Rebirth, z10 Buzz Highlight SHARE Conference

This winter's SHARE conference was a user confab to remember, attracting young and old IT pros alike.

The timing of last month's SHARE winter conference was propitious. Not only did it coincide with the release of IBM Corp.'s next-generation mainframe system -- System z10 -- it also gave attendees a chance to put an actual z10 through its paces (see

In addition, it gave industry watchers (many were in attendance) a chance to see what all the excitement is about. From the glee of older mainframe-centric IT professionals posturing for photo-ops with IBM's z10 demo system to the excitement of the zNextGen attendees -- who now comprise a small but growing (and ever more youthful) portion of SHARE -- this winter's get together was a user meeting to remember.

Take it from industry veteran Joe Clabby, a principal with Clabby Analytics, who attended last month's event -- against the advice of an analyst friend.

"[I]magine my surprise when a fellow research analyst recommended against my attending the SHARE user group meeting in Orlando last week," writes Clabby. "Some of the reasons this analyst suggested included that the event would have the wrong mix of people [IT technical people -- not IT executive decision-makers]; that interest in this kind of event was declining … and that even IBM was losing interest in this event." The facts, Clabby says, rebut such claims. For example, SHARE officials cited nearly 2100 speakers, vendors, and user registrants -- more than 300 of whom were new attendees.

The claim that Big Blue itself is losing interest in SHARE is hardly consistent with IBM's demonstration of an actual z10 mainframe on the SHARE floor -- not to mention that its System z10 announcement was timed to coincide with the SHARE show.

More to the point, Clabby argues, the general level of excitement at SHARE was the opposite of what you'd see at a show on the decline. "SHARE was heavily attended by mainframe professionals, though I also met several distributed computing apologists. Mainframers at SHARE seemed charged with excitement, and for good reason," Clabby says. "[M]any of them were excited about using their allegedly aging mainframes to do new, exciting things such as to run new Linux/Java workloads. These professionals were jazzed that the mainframe has evolved into a high-end, centralized, server platform for the most modern day workloads."

Then there was the zNextGen crowd.

A few years ago, when kicking off its zNextGen initiative, Big Blue crowed about reaching out to college students. More recently, IBM appears to be extending that ambition: this year's crop of zNextGeners also included several high school students. Clabby, for one, was impressed.

"SHARE hosted dozens of college/high school students at this year's event. And note, high schoolers can now compete with college students in IBM's vaunted mainframe innovation competition. Kindling young spirits in this manner should go a long way to helping build the next generation of mainframe IT executives."

All Agog Over z10

Dave Jones, a consultant and developer with V/Soft, a zLinux and z/VM-oriented mainframe ISV, also caught some of the SHARE excitement -- particularly due to Big Blue's new System z10 announcement.

According to Jones, "given the comments I heard at SHARE last week in Orlando, the z10 will be a big marketing success for IBM. It does directly address a number of concerns that IBM mainframe sites have had with their platform of choice. The z10 will make the mainframe a much more attractive platform, especially for hosting new and emerging workloads, based on Java and/or Linux."

Jones -- whose specialty is z/VM -- was quite taken by the server consolidation story that Big Blue outlined at SHARE and in its z10 marketing material. "IBM's claim of one [System] z10 [being equal to approximately] 1500 Intel x86 servers is conservative," he argues. "Not only are the z10's processors more technically advanced -- e.g., [there's] hardware support for decimal floating point instructions -- and faster [System z10's clock rate of 4-GHz compared to the z9-EC's rate of 1.7 GHz], there are now four cores on a single chip, with a significantly improved 'super-scaler' instruction pipeline."

In light of System z10's new hardware bona-fides, Jones outlines an intriguing scenario. "One of the features that differentiates the z10 -- and the earlier z9 systems as well, [albeit] to a lesser extent -- from other platforms such as the Intel x86 family is the availability of the 'specialty' engines [such as] zIIP, zAAP, and ILFs," he points out. "It would certainly not surprise me to see IBM announcing by the end of the year one or more new specialty engines to address the one area where the z10 still trails the x86 and PowerPC world -- the area of intense floating point numerical computations."

About the Author

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