Mainframes never go away--they just find a new use.
One thing that has always amazed me about the mainframe is how IBM has managed to cram it into any new technology frontier. Cloud computing? Mainframe. SaaS? Mainframe enabled. Centralized IT? You guess it: Mainframe. What's more notable is that IBM isn't merely talking up its business: If it were the mainframe would be dead and gone already.
The mainframe is like the cockroach. If the world were to end via a nuclear holocaust there would only be two things left: Cockroaches and a mainframe.
These thoughts surfaced after Dan Farber's post about the resurrection of the mainframe and how IBM execs managed to spark a debate about SaaS, multitenancy and what it all means.
Steve Mills, IBM's software czar, told Dan at its Business Partner Leadership Conference, that cloud computing is really just a newfangled way to describe mainframe computing. Mills said:
"We have been running multitenancy [running multiple customers on a single machine with a single application instance] for decades and decades. It's a mainframe model where things run together but in isolation. The issue is whether the machines will bear up under the load of diverse work or will they grind down and you'll need to provision another machine. You need reliability, security, auditing, privacy, data integrity, automation and full isolation. You need to have a lot of layers in the environment."
NetSuite begged to differ about the multitenancy part (SaaS-heads can debate this point forever), but the big takeaway for me is how IBM manages to keep the mainframe relevant even as the landscape changes. WebSphere and Linux gave mainframe new life. Now IBM is working the cloud computing thing.
At least, IBM is putting its money where its mainframes are: IBM is in the process of internally replacing 3,900 servers with 33 mainframes by the end of 2009. Guess that mainframe obit can be put on hold a little longer.