IBM never talks publicly about the price of its high-end mainframes, which can cost millions of dollars. But when it announced a new low-end model last week, the system's $100,000 starting price was a featured attraction.
IBM hopes that price will draw new users to the mainframe, especially in developing countries such as China, where the announcement was made. But there's another group of customers that also may consider switching its allegiances: users of IBM's System i5 midrange line.
Gregory Martin, IT manager for integration and technical architecture at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. in Miami, is an i5 user. He said the big reason why Royal Caribbean didn't consider buying a mainframe previously was the cost of the technology.
But the new, lower-cost offering, called the System z9 Business Class, "is something that we would definitely want to take a look at," Martin said. "It may eat into, to some degree, that [i5] world." One of the things he likes about the idea of using a mainframe, he added, is its ability to support multiple databases, such as Oracle installations. The i5 supports only IBM's DB2.
IBM has been offering a $200,000 mainframe called the z890 for two years. But unlike that system, the new model is based on the same technology as the company's high-end machines, which are being renamed the System z9 Enterprise Class.
The Business Class and Enterprise Class systems share many of the same characteristics, including security features and support for specialty processors, such as a device announced last week that's designed to run business intelligence, ERP and CRM workloads. IBM said that the low-cost machine can also be upgraded to an Enterprise Class configuration.
Last year, Mark Shackelford, IT director at Baldor Electric Co. in Forth Smith, Ark., consolidated three mainframes and eight IBM Unix servers onto a single z990 mainframe. Shackelford said he thinks the System z9 Business Class model would be "a great place to start" for companies that don't already have mainframe experience.
"The hard part of getting nonmainframe people to the platform -- and this is IBM's biggest challenge -- is the learning curve," he said. "People just don't understand the architecture. Once you learn it, though, you find it's a lot easier to administer than a Windows and Unix environment."
Shackelford added that, based on his experience, users moving to a mainframe should expect it to take six months to train their IT staffs and about a year for workers to achieve mainframe proficiency.