Maybe It's Time for More Mainframe Solutions


Sony reports a huge data breach involving its PlayStation Network. At this writing, Sony has not been able to bring services back online, leaving millions of gamers (and Sony's coffers) poorer.

South Korea's NH Bank also went offline. Preliminary signs point to a sophisticated employee-mounted attack in that case, which wiped out both primary and disaster recovery resources concurrently. Nobody is sure which employee(s), though.

I hope we can all learn from these experiences and others, which unfortunately seem to be growing in frequency and severity.

UPDATE: South Korean investigators now think that North Korean experts were behind the devastating attack on Nonghyup Bank which wiped out many of the bank's credit card records and disabled the bank's core services for several days. Meanwhile, the Korea Internet Security Agency (KISA) reports that 82.7% of South Korean companies do not have any plan for recovery in the event of a disaster or attack. That includes numerous large South Korean businesses. Lack of any DR plan, at least a sub-standard one, would be unthinkable in many countries — and hopefully now unthinkable in Korea. (Photo: Sony executives bow. See the full story at The Australian.)

by Timothy Sipples April 26, 2011 in Business Continuity, Current Affairs, Games, Security
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Bypassing Microsoft, Again?

The Wall Street Journal, America's traditional stock market observer, notes that IBM is creeping up on Microsoft (stock symbol MSFT) in terms of "market capitalization." Market capitalization is one measure of the value of the company: the number of shares outstanding multiplied by the current share price.

At the close of trading last week, IBM had a market capitalization of $205.2 billion, while Microsoft had a market capitalization only $9.2 billion higher. (The gap was even narrower earlier in the week.) As the Journal also points out, IBM already has a higher "enterprise value," which includes net debt. Apple (AAPL) passed Microsoft about a year ago, but Microsoft has had a higher market capitalization than IBM for just over 15 years.

Remarkably, IBM has transformed its business multiple times. For example, today's modern mainframe is both the descendant of IBM's biggest business transformation gamble (the birth of the System/360) and right in the thick of the next (cloud computing). Under ex-CEO Bill Gates's stewardship, Microsoft transformed itself once, from the primary supplier of BASIC programming language interpreters for microcomputers into the establishment of two franchise businesses: Windows and Office — with a big assist (MS-DOS) from IBM along the way. Transformation and evolution are hard, but Microsoft is full of talented people who just might figure out where the company should go.

UPDATE #1: As of May 17, the difference in market capitalization between the two companies has fallen to about $4 billion. If present trends continue, IBM could pass Microsoft in just a few more weeks.

UPDATE #2: Maybe I was a little too conservative in my assessment. At the close of trading on Tuesday, May 17, Microsoft had a market capitalization only $260 million higher than IBM's. Will IBM pass Microsoft in market capitalization this week? It's quite possible.

by Timothy Sipples April 24, 2011 in Economics
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IBM Announces 1Q2011 Earnings: Mainframe Up Big Again

After IBM reported a blockbuster 4th quarter for its System z mainframe hardware business, IBM delivered another impressive quarter. The company's System z revenues grew a whopping 41 percent year over year in the first quarter. MIPS shipments grew 34 percent, the biggest first quarter growth rate since 2004.


As I've mentioned previously, that's just the hardware business. IBM and numerous other vendors, small and large, make up the mainframe supplier ecosystem. IBM does not report System z-related software and services revenues separately in its financial statement. Nonetheless, the hardware report means that System z aggressively gained marketshare.

So about that difference between revenue growth and MIPS growth: does that mean the price per MIPS is rising? The short answer: probably not. IBM started shipping the z BladeCenter Extension (zBX) in September, 2010. That's the hardware that houses blade servers for direct attachment to the z196 mainframe. In the past you would buy the main chassis (containing your MIPS), and you might buy a BladeCenter chassis plus some blade servers. IBM would count the MIPS as System z hardware revenue, and IBM would count the BladeCenter and blades sales as Power, System x, and/or software sales. Now, when you buy a zBX, that revenue gets reported as System z revenue, even though you're not buying IBM MIPS. (Power and X86 blades aren't measured in IBM MIPS. They're measured using other metrics, like rPerfs.) In other words, the definition of the mainframe has expanded and now includes both IBM MIPS and non-IBM MIPS (like rPerfs).

IBM's other server product lines did quite well, too, gaining marketshare. And once again IBM is reporting what you might call a "flight to high-end servers." As virtualization and cloud computing become ever more dominant, and as other server vendors struggle, IBM seems to be reaping the benefits with its System z and high-end Power product lines, in particular.

Case in point: Canada's Payment Solution Providers. PSP is consolidating its entire HP- and Oracle-based infrastructure onto a System z10 BC with z/OS and DB2. Why? Security (including easier PCI compliance), scalability, and cost savings. PSP provides cloud-based credit card services.

by Timothy Sipples April 20, 2011 in Economics
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IBM Centennial Film: "They Were There"

IBM produced this 30 minute film as part of its centennial year (2011). The film includes some interesting stories about the System/360, Sabre (airline reservations), and the Apollo space program, among others. Enjoy.

by Timothy Sipples April 15, 2011 in History, Innovation
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Oklahoma Considering IT Consolidation

Meet Alex Pettit, the State of Oklahoma's new CIO. He has uncovered some apparent inefficiencies in the way the state government delivers IT services.

For example, Oklahoma currently has 7 mainframes. If Oklahoma consolidated onto a couple of new z196 machines, they could probably run more efficiently. That sounds like a good idea, actually, but my advice to Mr. Pettit would be: why stop there? Keep consolidating the thousands of other servers you have onto those same zEnterprise machines. Perhaps he's already thought of that since he cites a figure of $100 million for consolidation, which I assume includes more than just relocating some LPARs.

IBM achieved a greater than 100 to 1 reduction in its own mainframe consolidation project, called "Project Big Green." IBM moved thousands of small servers onto just a few mainframes. IBM's "w3" intranet runs on mainframes, as a notable example. Oklahoma could easily do the same thing and achieve similar cost efficiencies.

Pettit also wondered why his state has 32 different circuits (contracted separately) for connecting its computer systems. That's a lot of duplicated cost, and reducing his state's network to two major network links, centrally managed, would reduce costs and improve network resiliency for everyone.

Good luck, Mr. Pettit, and please keep the public informed of your progress.

by Timothy Sipples April 14, 2011 in People
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Hey, Gartner: You Blew It

Analyst Joe Clabby wrote an insightful article last year criticizing Gartner for its frequent advice to many customers to move their applications and databases off mainframes and onto other, more "modern platforms." He posed a few simple questions to Gartner, including this one in particular: what platform is more modern than the IBM mainframe?

As far as I know, Gartner never responded directly to Clabby's article. But I'm quite sure that at least some of Gartner's analysts recommended migrating mainframe applications and databases to HP Itanium servers running Oracle middleware on HP-UX. (You can see my previous analysis of the HP Itanium meltdown here and here.)

So now I've got this new question: shouldn't those same Gartner analysts apologize for giving such profoundly bad advice to their customers?

My congratulations to Joe Clabby for vastly outperforming Gartner in IT analysis and forecasting. Clabby simply got it right, and Gartner got it oh-so-wrong. More precisely, many (but not all) of Gartner's analysts blew it.

UPDATE: This video speaks to the Gartner analysts who blew it:

by Timothy Sipples April 11, 2011 in Current Affairs, Systems Technology
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IBM Helping HP Itanium Customers and Application Vendors

Previously I offered my thoughts on Oracle's announcement that it is terminating all its development for HP Itanium platforms. This announcement has understandably caused great anxiety and concern within HP's enterprise server community.

I checked to see what IBM is doing to help Itanium customers left in the lurch. HP Itanium platforms run HP's UNIX (HP-UX), OpenVMS, and the NonStop Kernel (formerly from Tandem). Oracle's announcement is a serious blow to these customers, and understandably they are looking for exit strategies. IBM is ready to help with a uniquely complete menu of options. Here are some links to explore many (but not all) of those options:

  • IBM Database Migration Toolkit. This toolkit helps you migrate from Oracle Database to DB2 or Informix for any operating system, including HP-UX.
  • IBM Migration Assistant for Oracle Tuxedo. This tool helps you move Oracle Tuxedo applications to TXSeries and/or CICS for any operating system, including HP-UX. NonStop customers running Tuxedo should also find this tool helpful, and in that case CICS would be recommended to maintain or improve the applications' mission-critical attributes.
  • IBM WebSphere Application Server Migration Toolkit. This toolkit helps you move applications from Oracle WebLogic Application Server to WebSphere Application Server for any operating system, including HP-UX. NonStop customers running WebLogic should also find this tool useful, and in that case WebSphere Application Server for z/OS would be a recommended destination platform. This toolkit also helps Red Hat JBoss customers move their applications to WebSphere Application Server. (Red Hat also discontinued support for HP Itanium platforms.)
  • IBM Migration Factory. This is IBM's Web landing page for server migrations, for example from Itanium/HP-UX to Power servers running AIX. IBM's HP-specific landing page is here.

Those are some of the more popular migration paths, but there are many others, including for VMS and for NonStop. For example, this vendor advertises a NonStop TAL to C/C++ conversion tool. The resulting C/C++ code can then be compiled using an ANSI-compliant C/C++ compiler, such as the compilers for z/OS, AIX, and Linux.

I would advise HP Itanium customers to use time wisely. Start planning now and execute very soon. Consider all options and (probably) choose more than one, in combination, to address your full range of needs.

by Timothy Sipples April 11, 2011 in Current Affairs, Systems Technology
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V12N is a Four Letter Word

V12N is a contraction along the same vein as I18N. Both are obscure in non-tech circles, the latter perhaps less so. V12N stands for Virtualization, which is "V", 12 letters, "N". Cute, eh? Since virtualization is a mouthful to pronounce and almost as difficult to type, the contraction seems useful. (I18N is short for internationalization. Same story.)

Not everyone likes virtualization. I continue to see that V12N is a four letter word for some. That is ... when it's not embraced as the latest trendy buzz word it is scorned as threat or even as a broken promise.

This morning I got an invitation to yet another webinar. Several experts are scheduled to discuss what data center managers should do about the current state of V12N and trends in V12N. I noticed the phrase "VM sprawl". How ironic. Virtualization was recently still touted as our savior from "server sprawl". Notably absent from the panel is anyone from outside the VMware/INTeL space. (I mean, VMware is slick, as I have said for years. But what about Xen or KVM? ... and what about System z??) So it seems that they want to sell a package rather than help you solve a problem.

They always mention cloud computing these days. Of couse, "cloud" is not a four letter word, though most agree that the cloud is nothing more or less than a collection of on-demand server instances ... virtual machines. That knowledge exposes the sliver lining in what could otherwise be a dark and gloomy climatic phenomenon.

Mining the silver (from the ground or from the cloud) takes work. If you're going to get a return on your investment, you must be in the game for the long term. V12N and cloud computing promised to relieve certain IT executive headaches. But they have brought new ones. But I say that the real headache is human nature. Managers and engineers with short term thinking and with pet platform predisposition serve to short-circuit long term success. The effect is that virtualization becomes a passing fad at best or a hail storm of new costs for the budget burdened CIO.

Technology comes into play. Executives must master it. Technology is not magic: it is merely the current implementation of physics and math. (Physics ... "Not just a good idea, it's the law.") Understanding technology is the reponsibility of the executive. Explaining technology is the responsibility of the engineer. Obscuring technology is the responsibility of marketeers. (Note the important distinction between "marketers" and "marketeers".) Beware the kind of people who make good tech into bad blood. (They could turn "love" into a four letter word.)

The best V12N comes from z/VM. Full disclosure: I have made a career from that platform. Full disclosure, part 2: I don't run z/VM at home, but I do run virtualization 24x7 at home. So in balance, I am objective, and I'm tellin ya ... the best V12N comes from z/VM. System z hardware provides the highly refined basis for hosting full-function guest operating systems. z/VM adds management of the guests which other hypervisors don't, plus brings yet more features for good hosting.

Server consolidation is good. But it's not all that V12N does. Cloud computing is good. But V12N is way more than on-demand servers. There's so much more value to get from virtualization: configuration, content sharing, D/R preparedness, system consistency, simplified config and maint. I can only hope that these wonders will not be lost on managers and execs wounded by misinformation.

V12N is a four letter word, like "good" and "cool" ... and "love".

-- R;

by sirsanta April 8, 2011
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HP Itanium's Ignominious Demise (Updated)

I thought I'd let the dust settle a bit before commenting on recent news concerning the fate of HP's Itanium servers. I've worked with some organizations that have purchased a lot of Itanium servers, and I know they're all very distressed with software vendor abandonment of HP's flagship platforms.

First, a brief review of history. In the 1990s, HP still designed its own CPUs for its high-end servers, notably the PA-RISC architecture for its UNIX servers running HP-UX. However, HP's homegrown CPUs were rapidly becoming uncompetitive as other vendors (including IBM) could sustain bigger CPU R&D investments. HP had also acquired responsibility for former DEC platforms (specifically servers running the VMS operating system) and the Tandem NonStop platform (which some analysts classify as a mainframe environment), among others. In an effort to cut costs, HP decided to end support for some operating systems completely, deliver minimal new function for others ("maintenance mode" only), and consolidate its operating systems onto a single CPU, with most of the design and fabrication outsourced to share costs. Thus HP struck a partnership with Intel to jointly create the Itanium CPU. The forecasts were rosy, and Itanium would allegedly take over the world. In particular, Intel agreed that its X86 architecture would remain forever 32-bit only, while Itanium would be anointed as its sole 64-bit architecture, with a new instruction set. For migration purposes, Intel and HP agreed to equip the Itanium CPU with a 32-bit X86 compatibility mode. And (HP promised), while its customers could experience some disruption moving their applications from other CPUs to the new CPUs, that would be a one-time problem and (HP claimed) worth the effort and expense.

That was the plan. But almost nothing went according to plan. Itanium was always late and slow. AMD created and shipped the X86-64 instruction set (called AMD64) in its CPUs, forcing Intel's hand in doing exactly the same thing. All but a few tiny vendors stopped shipping Itanium CPUs, leaving HP as the only company shipping Itanium CPUs in large numbers. And IBM kept gaining high-end server marketshare from HP, becoming far and away the #1 UNIX server vendor. IBM also nurtured the mainframe's renaissance.

Even so, for many years HP managed to keep a respectable Itanium business going, with HP-UX emerging as the #2 UNIX platform as Sun collapsed in the 2000s. But then some other shoes dropped. Microsoft stopped developing software for Itanium, eliminating Windows Server and SQL Server from the platform. Red Hat stopped shipping new versions of its Linux distribution, which also meant that Red Hat's JBoss application server left the platform. Those software vendor announcements were bad but probably not fatal. But then HP's Board of Directors fired the company's CEO, Mark Hurd. Hurd, a personal friend of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, quickly joined Oracle. Oracle, fresh from its acquisition of Sun (and the #3 UNIX server vendor), which as recently as 2006 had been HP's (and HP-UX's) strongest and most profitable software vendor, announced in late March that there would be no new versions of any Oracle software products for Itanium. Oracle Database 11gR2 would be the last — although HP customers are free to pay Oracle a perpetual stream of support fees for 11gR2 if they wish.

Needless to say, HP (and to a lesser extent, Intel) were stunned. But nobody buys servers only to fill racks in data centers. Companies and governments buy servers to run applications and databases. HP's biggest and most popular Itanium-compatible software product — its only big "anchor tenant" — has now hung up the "going out of business" sign and is closing its doors. Ironically, IBM is now Itanium's largest software vendor, by far. Also last month (in case the message wasn't clear enough), Oracle shipped the latest Oracle Database 11gR2 for Linux on IBM System z.

Let me state my assessment plainly: Oracle's announcement is Itanium's death sentence. It's also brutal but highly effective business strategy for Oracle in its competition with HP. Oracle will probably lose some HP customers who are (rightly, in my opinion) concerned about doing business with a vendor that abandoned them, but Oracle is betting, correctly, that most of its customers, when forced to choose sides, will choose Oracle's software over HP's hardware. To paraphrase a former U.S. presidential advisor, "It's the software, stupid."

For Intel it's a short-term annoyance but nothing more. This week Intel proceeded with its latest Xeon announcement and paid mere lip service to Itanium, at best. Intel would be quite happy to save R&D expenses and focus exclusively on X86 and, in particular, try to expand into mobile device markets and do battle with ARM. However, Intel would prefer not to anger its biggest OEM (HP) and might face some financial penalties acting on its own, so Oracle's announcement is in some ways a nice alternative.

And then there's IBM, which is extremely well positioned with its Power, System z, and software offerings, to attract and win the many soon-to-be-former HP customers. IBM can assist HP Itanium customers in any manner they wish: in straight-up migration from the #2 UNIX platform to the #1 (and growing) UNIX platform, in enterprise consolidation (through Power and/or System z) for additional cost savings and operational benefits, and/or in tactical or strategic migrations from Oracle software products to IBM software products, such as Oracle Database to DB2 (even on HP-UX), immediately or over time. Oracle's announcement also helps validate IBM's entire business strategy over the past decade-plus (and invalidate HP's): "It's the software, stupid."

As for HP, I think their new CEO has many challenges. There are some strong technical reasons (big endian v. little endian) why HP will find it very difficult to move HP-UX and other Itanium operating systems to Intel/AMD X86-64, and even once that's done (if it can be done) Oracle's software is still not going to support HP-UX. I suspect HP will just have to muddle through the Itanium meltdown and, as Intel improves X86-64, move toward an Itanium emulation solution for any remaining VMS, NonStop, and HP-UX customers. That'll provide application compatibility but not performance. Alternatively, HP might want to call IBM to inquire about a move to Power and/or System z CPUs which would be technically more suitable for HP's operating systems and which could at least be partitioned and virtualized to run other operating systems with continuing access to new business software from many vendors. Otherwise, I think HP is fated to devolve into much more of a Dell-like commodity X86-64 server (and PC) vendor, of course with lower profit margins. I don't know how HP builds a software business essentially from scratch. HP's business software portfolio is very limited, and there aren't too many affordable software vendors available for acquisition. Some analysts have suggested that HP should buy EnterpriseDB and try to migrate Oracle Database customers there, but I don't think that strategy could possibly work. In short: well played, Larry.

UPDATE #1: Expanding on the "HP on IBM" idea for a moment, IBM acquired Transitive, the company that produced Apple's superb Rosetta technology which helped Apple (ironically) move from PowerPC to Intel CPUs while maintaining compatibility with binary PowerPC applications. That technology works very well, and IBM Transitive would be the best in the world in helping HP's customers transition from Itanium to Power and/or System z CPUs while maintaining binary compatibility. Also, technically IBM and HP could do something very similar to what Apple did and place that CPU emulation within the same operating system instance. That would be highly desirable for HP-UX Itanium binaries specifically, which could then run as-is within AIX. (VMS and NonStop are probably too "alien" and would need to run in separate LPARs or virtual machines, but those two operating systems don't run inside HP-UX today, so that's fine.) Of course, HP would have to contact IBM, strike a deal, and collaborate. Given that IBM is now HP Itanium's largest software vendor, and that IBM possesses the best set of technologies to help HP customers migrate (whether HP collaborates or not), I think HP's CEO probably ought to give his counterpart at IBM a call if he hasn't already. It's better for HP to save some revenue, profit, and customer relationships. There's ample precedent for that sort of partnership between (former?) server rivals. For example, Hitachi is a major IBM Power and AIX OEM, and Hitachi and IBM also collaborated on the z800 mainframe.

UPDATE #2: Oracle's announcement also severely and negatively impacts HP's remaining VMS and NonStop customers. Oracle owns Rdb, the DEC-created database engine that's probably the most popular database for VMS systems. Oracle also owns Tuxedo, probably the most popular transaction manager for NonStop systems. Oracle is halting development for these middleware products, too. VMS and NonStop customers typically have very demanding quality of service (QoS) requirements, including application stability and longevity, so my recommendation would be (in most cases) that they plan for and execute a migration to IBM System z. That won't necessarily be easy, but it's the best available option given Oracle's actions.

by Timothy Sipples April 6, 2011 in History, Systems Technology
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