CA Education, IBM Server News among SHARE Conference Highlights

IBM rides System z to server-market bragging rights and CA tees up $1 million in mainframe-related training.

Unlike in 2008, when IBM Corp. showcased its then-brand-spanking-new System z10 mainframe on the SHARE show floor, this year’s event of the independent IBM user group was a comparatively subdued affair.

zEnterprise started shipping five months ago, after all, and -- while Big Blue did announce a new zEnterprise BladeCenter eXtension (zBX) deliverable last month -- it hadn’t queued up any mainframe hardware, software, or services announcements to coincide with SHARE.

CA Technologies Inc. made a splash at the show, announcing a new System z educational push -- its $1 million Mainframe Academy initiative -- a vendor-agnostic boot-camp of sorts. The eight-week-long academy is a mix of in-class, hands-on, virtual, and independent study tracks aimed at would-be mainframers.

“The [m]ainframe is experiencing a resurgence, and we need to motivate and train young talent to allow it to continue to play a critical role in corporate IT and cloud computing strategies,” said Semerjian, in a statement. Semerjian also trumpeted CA’s work with IBM’s zBX technology: according to Semerjian, CA uses zBX internally to integrate Big Blue’s Smart Analytic Optimizer with its zEnterprise 196 mainframe platform.

CA’s reasoning is that zBX -- which promises to permit system-wide management across mainframe and non-mainframe platforms alike -- plays to its traditional strengths. Along with BMC, HP, and IBM itself, CA is a leader in cross-platform management tooling.

According to industry veteran Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, says zBX could be a boon to CA and other traditional mainframe management vendors, especially once IBM starts offering x64-based zBX products.

“In a hybrid z196/zBX environment, robust mainframe management tools and solutions can be leveraged across other scale-up [e.g., Power Systems] and scale-out [System x] servers,” writes King. “[H]eterogeneous systems management is central to … CA’s historic value proposition, a critical point in an IT sector where systems vendors are attempting to secure more and more of the lucrative management market for themselves.”

zEnterprise Revenues Shine

The other bright spot at SHARE was IBM’s strong showing in International Data Corp.’s (IDC’s) latest server-market report.

It had been a rough stretch for IBM in the enterprise server space. Thanks to shrinking demand for its System z, Power Systems, and even System x platforms, HP last June was able to claim server market bragging rights, outpacing IBM in both server unit shipments (where it almost always enjoyed an advantage) and worldwide server revenues.

In Q4 of 2010, IBM once again surpassed HP in server market revenues. In fact, thanks to a late surge, Armonk was able to claim server-market bragging rights for all of 2010.

IDC says a reinvigorated System z line helped push Big Blue past HP in Q4. System z revenues surged by almost 70 percent for the quarter, reaching $1.7 billion.

If that seems high -- or perhaps even unprecedented -- that’s because it was: Big Iron posted its strongest performance in the history of IDC’s reporting.

How much of a driving force was System z in IBM’s come-from-behind coup? For one thing, System z accounted for almost one-third (30.4 percent) of IBM’s server market revenues.

There was significant pent-up demand for zEnterprise. After all, Q4 marked the first full quarter of its availability, and IBM didn’t start shipping its first zEnterprise 196 mainframes until late September, when Swiss Re, a reinsurance giant based in Zurich, Switzerland, purchased two of the behemoths, each outfitted with a full complement of 96 processor cores. (Up to 80 cores in each system can be allocated to z/OS; the remaining cores can run non-z/OS workloads, including any of several specialty processor engines.)

For the year, HP claimed the volume crown -- a title it’s held seemingly in perpetuity -- while IBM squeaked past Palo Alto to retain revenue bragging rights.

In addition to System z, Linux and Windows both turned in strong performances. Linux revenues were up by almost one-third (29.8 percent), while Windows had a banner quarter, with revenues jumping by more than one-sixth (16.8 percent). According to IDC, shops gobbled up 1.5 million Windows servers in Q4.

Unix revenues were flat, with 0.4 percent revenue growth. That’s still an improvement over the prior 18 months, during which Unix had been hemorrhaging sales. The former Sun, which experienced (more or less) its first full year of stewardship under Oracle Corp., had a particularly rough 2010, with sales tanking by almost one-sixth (14 percent).

IBM hadn’t queued up any mainframe hardware, software, or services announcements to coincide with SHARE. One reason for the lack of blockbuster news might be that SHARE this year coincided with IBM’s Tivoli-centric Pulse 2011 conference in Las Vegas. While Big Blue was preoccupied with Pulse, big mainframe ISVs such as BMC Software Corp. and Compuware Corp. hadn’t teed-up any SHARE-related news, either.