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IBM touts mainframes for the low-end market

With the System z9 business-class mainframes, and efforts to drive app development, IBM hopes to rejuvenate the low-end mainframe market.
Written by Aaron Tan, Contributor

SINGAPORE--IBM's latest mainframe system is a move by the company to rekindle growth in the low-end market, according to Gartner.

Launched in Beijing late April, the IBM System z9 Business Class mainframe reflects the company's intention to increase the number of low-end mainframe customers, Gartner said in a research note last month.

"For the past decade, it seemed that IBM's interest in the low-end [segment] of the market had waned," Gartner said, noting that the Multiprise 3000 and the z800 were at best "half-hearted" attempts to pacify low-end mainframe users.

The research company believes that IBM's new mainframe product is clearly aimed at customers of the older zSeries systems who have not migrated to newer technologies.

Mike Bliss, director for IBM System z, concurred. He told ZDNet Asia that Big Blue is targeting "existing customers who want to migrate from something old, and get the best they can out of mainframe technology".

In addition, IBM hopes to lure first-time users, whose businesses have evolved over the years to warrant the performance and scalability of mainframes, Bliss said.

Gartner noted that IBM might also be enticing the lowest end of their mainframe customer base--those who only require computing power of less than 500 million instructions per second (MIPS). This group of cost-sensitive users is "at the greatest risk [for IBM] of competitive displacement with migration to a Unix or Windows platform", the analyst said.

But Bliss argued that situation is quite the reverse. "We're actually seeing a lot of businesses migrate their Unix workloads to the mainframe," he said. "They're consolidating thousands of servers performing individual tasks into mainframe systems."

He added that over the last five years, the mainframe has gained "significant" market share over competing platforms such as Windows and Unix. But he declined to provide shipment and revenue numbers of IBM's mainframe business.

A growing concern for companies with mainframe systems is the shrinking set of skilled manpower familiar with maintaining the environment. Bliss acknowledged: "There is a general discussion about the maturing mainframe workforce, and it's something that we've been focused on for some time."

"We've got a whole bunch of programs such as education, training and workshops to help customers with the skills they need," he said. "We also engage the academic community to train a group of mainframe-literate people to meet future needs."

According to Gartner, an ecosystem of independent software vendors (ISVs) is crucial to the success of any computing platform. Right now, the number of applications available on IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system is relatively modest, compared to Windows and Unix, the analyst noted.

Bliss said IBM realizes this, and is already cultivating ISV support for its mainframes through a program called System z for ISVs. The initiative provides ISVs with application porting and testing services, as well technical, sales and marketing resources.

Over the last few years, Bliss added, the number of Java and Linux applications available for the mainframe has been growing at more than 30 percent per year.

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