Mainframe

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"Mainframe" is the term most people associate with the ultra-scalable and ultra-reliable Enterprise Servers that many large enterprises run their core business on.

Enterprise Servers have moved through 3 phases. First, specialist proprietary boxes (such as the 390 mainframe), where you paid  for potential capacity and service levels you might not actually need, in return for unparallelled reliability, capacity, availability and security (these Enterprise Servers - Mainframes - are still widely used in the biggest companies). Second, distributed clusters of Intel-based commodity servers, cheap if service levels and resilience aren't important (less cheap if they are), culminating in server sprawl and expensively-managed server farms (these, also, are still in use). Third, we have Enterprise Server 3.0 - ES3.

ES3 is server consolidation: with the "ultimate cloud in a box" - or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) - and is driven by a need to control the electrical power consumption (and heat dissipation) associated with enterprise business automation; and to achieve economies of scale. The benefits of ES3 are enabled by the secure multi-tenanting and rock-solid virtualisation which architectures such as IBM z are proven to deliver.

Enterprise Server 3.0 is not (just) hardware in a box. It is hardware complemented with management software for workload scheduling, throughput optimisation, resource usage optimisation and resilience - it is a combination of hardware and software delivering a bullet-proof infrastructure as a service to the entrerprise.

Technologies and capabilities important to ES3 (although they are frequently implemented on other platforms too) include:

ES3, to a large extent, represents "mainframe culture", which is risk adverse and oriented towards preserving critical business service levels as technology evolves and business needs and workload patterns change - without the luxury of "planned downtime". Cultural integration with "everything runs on beta" cultures can be a bigger issue than technology integration.

ES3 arose from the "grave of the mainframe" in 2011. ES3  is, in essence, the mainframe without its traditional limitations (it has fast CPUs and can run distributed Unix  and Windows applications natively on Intel blades). It is services- and standards-oriented; with ES3, enterprise automation run on virtual Linux machines using  open-standards protocols, sharing a server which delivers less than 5 minutes down time a year; mixed workloads are scheduled automatically for maximum throughput at the largest scale (with IBM's Unified Resource Manager, for example); and hundreds of virtual machines can run in parallel on up to 5.5 GHz CPUs, with absolute isolation. Using ES3 cloud services, users can provision resources on demand and de-provision them as soon as they are no longer needed. freeing them up for other users - and only paying for what they actually use.

The ES3 machine of the future is going to be a hybrid cloud appliance, supporting an in-house  private or (increasingly) a public cloud, as well as providing a traditional enterprise computing platform, where appropriate. It is powered by an architecture designed from the ground up to support multi-processing, multi-tenancy, high availability and high security; with extreme energy efficiency. It will be bought by large enterprises seeking to rebuild their internal IT out of cloud services and by the new breed of SI, the Service Integrator, selling business automation built out of orchestrated cloud services.

In the meantime, the widespread use of mainframes in the largest enterprises supports a flourishing ecosystem, albeit not one terribly visible  to general IT. This supports, for example:

  • Development and maintenance of mainframe applications with a special focus on cross-platform development (for example, developing/maintaining mainframe zOS CICS COBOL applications on Windows);
  • Mainframe software asset management;
  • Migration of applications between mainframe and distributed platforms (including legacy modernisation);
  • Systems and operations management, including mainframe operational analytics and mainframe test data management;
  • Mainframe session and workload management;
  • Mainframe security and access control;
  • Data centre automation, including mainframe printing and RFID processing;
  • Mainframe middleware for integrating mainframe and ES3 systems with corporate distributed systems, including web-enabling mainframe OLTP (eg CICS) applications, publishing mainframe output as XML/HTML, desktop access to mainframe data, and the use of secure mainframe features for, for example, Web-commerce credit card processing, encryption and identity management.
  • Outsourcing of mainframe services and support and managed services for the mainframe.
  • Mainframe DBMSs

Any enterprise seeking to modernise a mainframe legacy should look at ES3, because it delivers the same  throughput performance resilience and security that made the mainframe the centre of the enterprise  - but more economically and more flexibly. It delivers value from reuse of the software the enterprise already depends on and from innovative knowledge-based management tools.

Any enterprise wanting to control "server sprawl" without impacting service levels should look at ES3, because IBM (for example) provides a documented use cases of it doing just that (see here, for example). ES3 delivers value in space-efficient automation.

Any enterprise with "green computing" energy efficiency issues or which is hitting datacentre electricity supply issues should look at ES3, because it manages heat more efficiently than most server farms  and runs at 80-100% utilisation - an order of magnitude (at least) higher than distributed servers in general. ES3 delivers value in energy-efficient automation.

Any regulated enterprise or one that holds personal data should consider ES3 from the point-of-view of its resilience and bullet-proof security (especially as a basis for a cloud security model.

A start-up that wants to be able to grow without limit without over-provisioning in the early stages should look at ES3, because of its services model and because vendors like IBM will move in extra capacity in advance of your need; and only charge when you start using it. ES3 can deliver value from a cloud-based infrastructure agility model as well as delivering value from a conventional in-house server model.

The ES3 market place is dominated by IBM and z Enterprise, with companies like CA Technologies, Compuware and BMC (as well as IBM) delivering its management software. However, ES3 is not one particular technology and any enterprise server technology could qualify if it can match z Enterprise levels of scalability, resilience, availability, security, energy-efficiency and so on. Provided, that is, it can do this for long-term processing of real workloads without "planned downtime" let-out clauses  and so on.

There are examples of such machines from several vendors (especially in Japan); possibly, some of these are not moving on significantly from the legacy "mainframe" concept.The IBM z enterprise servers, with built-in distributed blade-servers (a hybrid architecture), fast CPU's and more sensible pricing models are the exemplars of ES3. Key features are:

  • Efficiency at scale, with a hybrid architecture supporting native running of mixed workloads.
  • Strong support for parallelisation (e.g. with transactional memory), resilient virtualisation and cloud deployment.
  • Extreme resilience and trusted security.
  • Accessible server management tools.

Emerging trends are the introduction of more customer-friendly pricing models (with special new-customer incentives) and the availability of better management utilities. These new utilities often have built-in knowledge transfer features, to allow distributed-computing support  technicians to pick up ES3 support skills rapidly, and integrate management across all technology platforms from a single point of control. Increasingly, management will be based on sophisticated, near-real-time operational  analytics (e.g. zAware), running in its own secure partition.

Distributed technology vendors (such as NEC, Bull and HP) are producing Intel-based Enterprise servers  that claim to emulate ES3 services levels - although IBM's z architecture probably has a more established record for actually delivering these service levels.

Some way out, ES3 is likely to find a home powering powering public enterprise cloud services from an efficient multi-tenanted ES3 host.

DevOps, the extension of Agile processes to Operations, and collaboration across Dev and Ops silos, supported by automation, will help to bring ES3 platforms into the IT mainstream.

Finally, as usual, consolidation into large vendor offerings is continuing.

Hardware vendors supporting the ES3 space are consolidating, and vendors such as Hitachi have effectively left this space to IBM, although IBM probably doesn't want a monopoly position (for regulatory reasons) and there is a continuing space for software vendors that don't have a hardware business to support.

However, since so much of Enterprise business still runs on Mainframes, there is still a flourishong Mainframe ecosystem, although there is also a trend towards smaller companies in this space being acquired by big players such as IBM, BMC and CA Technologies, in pursuit of their ES3 stories.

Areas where the vendor landscape is not changing are of some interest - databases such as Adabas, Nomad and Focus still have a life.

Bloor expects to see a new class of emerging cloud-services integrators, using ES3 technology to provide higher-level enterprise services.



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