IBM mainframe management support for Windows coming, but Solaris uncertain

zEnterprise roadmap shows growing data center management role

NEW YORK -- IBM's zEnterprise system has an expansive yet still limited role. This "system of systems," as the company calls it, is still operating in a mainframe-centric universe, although a larger one.

Its centerpiece is a new mainframe, the zEnterprise 196, but the focus in this release is on allowing users to manage the mainframe, and Power and x86 chips in a blade environment via the mainframe's console. Operating system support includes z/OS, Linux and AIX.

At its presentation today here, company officials showed charts illustrating double digit percentage savings if users sweep away x86 server boxes in their data centers and use the mainframe and blades instead.

Those scenarios appear to work best if these x86 systems are running Linux. "As popular as Linux is, it remains a minority in the data center when compared to Windows," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif.

Ambuj Goyal, IBM general manager for development and manufacturing, said the Windows support is coming, but he wouldn't offer a potential timeframe. He said client needs were behind this approach.

"Windows environments are typically separate environments that have no affinity to the workload on the mainframe," Goyal said.

Asked about Solaris support, Goyal said "if it lives," adding, "I'm trying to get to where the momentum is rather where the momentum was."

But IBM's first step in its new approach for the mainframe may be to make a case for upgrade with existing customers.

One IBM mainframe user, Markus Schmid, vice president of information technology at Swiss Reinsurance Company of Zurich, who was at IBM's event today, told Computerworld he plans to adopt IBM's latest mainframe approach.

With the new mainframe system, Schmid said he will likely eliminate anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Unix servers and move to Linux. Additionally, he said he sees opportunity to offload some of the simpler mainframe processes to the less costly blade environment.

The entire system "will reduce the overall complexity of our environment," Schmid said.

IBM believes that this new platform will draw in new customers as well, but first priority is existing customers, said King.

"Any time that a company like IBM comes out with a next generation of its signature product, the first order of business is to deliver or explain what the value proposition is to existing customers, because those are the ones who are looking at these systems seriously to begin with," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon