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Innovation

Could excess power consumption finally do in the mainframe?

Hewlett-Packard's John Pickett has it in for mainframes. In fact, he has been known to call them the SUVs of the computer industry, big pieces of gadgetry that are over-powered.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Hewlett-Packard's John Pickett has it in for mainframes. In fact, he has been known to call them the SUVs of the computer industry, big pieces of gadgetry that are over-powered.

As the Mainframe Alternative Program Manager in HP's ESS Marketing group, Pickett is responsible for evangelizing the theory that some of the older legacy systems that companies have on life support in their data centers could soon be the victims of their own power. Power consumption that is.

According to Pickett, HP's Superdome series (which could be called a mainframe in its own right, IMO) uses 42 percent less power than an IBM z10 mainframe server. He estimates that the power saved by this swap-out would be enough to light 80 homes for one year. I'm sure that IBM will have some comments on this, once I post this entry. But it is a pretty compelling number.

One company embracing the idea that it may be time for mainframes to go is railway giant TTX. Realistically speaking, acting on this theory wouldn't really be possible without virtualization technology: it takes a whole lot of physical servers to live up to one big mainframes.

According to Rob Zelinka, director of infrastructure at TTX, the company is about midway through a project to migrate off a mainframe onto virtualized HP servers. It hasn't gone with Superdome, but rather a series of ProLiant servers. Over time, the switchover will result in a 44 percent reduction in power costs. What's more, HP is committed to continue slicing back on the power consumption of its systems.

Of course, this is not the number that Zelinka is most excited about. The infrastructure switch gives him much more flexibility as a manager,  he can recover his systems more quickly because of his new data recovery plan, and he can introduce business applications more quickly. There's the smaller footprint (TTX went from 32 rackes down to 10), and this oh-my-gosh data point: TTX believes the total cost of ownership for the new servers will be about 50 percent less than a mainframe. Here's a link to the complete TTX case study.

All this has got me to thinking: what the heck is a mainframe, anyway, and aren't some of today's enterprise systems really mainframes in a smaller package? According to Pickett, mainframes are defined by their proprietary operating system. If the OS is open, all bets are off, in his opinion. Here's another view on the whole debate.

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