Mainframe Mid-Life Crisis

Despite being repeatedly written off, the mainframe is the focus of attention at this week's SHARE conference in Boston

August 24, 2005

3 Min Read
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The mainframe, despite endless speculation about its demise, is not going away, but it is undergoing a mid-life crisis. At least, thats the message emerging from the SHARE user group conference in Boston, Mass., this week.

Mainframe technology, which is championed by IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), has been repeatedly written off over the last few years, particularly by vendors desperate to lure users off the platform onto smaller servers (see IBM Celebrates a Birthday).

But this week's news reflects that while its sex appeal has diminished, there's still plenty of work for the mainframe in IT shops. Security, in particular encryption, is a major theme of the SHARE event, suggesting that users are not planning on ditching the technology anytime soon.

The startup Luminex Software Inc., for example, announced interoperability between its Virtual/BLUE 3490 mainframe tape gateway with tape encryption devices from Decru Inc.

and NeoScale Systems Inc. The encryption appliances run between the Luminex Virtual/BLUE 3490 appliance and open systems tape libraries, encrypting data as it is written to backup tapes (see Luminex & Decru Decrypt and NeoScale Encrypts Tape).

The announcement comes a week after Decru and Peak Data launched a system that combines Decru’s encryption appliance with Peak Data’s CentricStor Virtual Tape System (VTS) product. The VTS system first backs up data to disk, and then to tape. Luminex’s Virtual/Blue 3490 gateway moves data directly to tape (see Decru With PeakData).Luminex CEO Art Tolsma says that encryption is big news up in Beantown. “Out here everybody’s talking about encryption. Those two [Decru and NeoScale] have a lot of exposure with the encryption market right now,” he adds.

According to the exec, none of his customers are doing encryption on the mainframe yet, but he expects that to change now. “We think it’s a pretty good-sized market. We'll start with larger customers and move downstream,” he says. Tolsma adds that Luminex is also working with mainframe tape vendors IBM and Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek) (NYSE: STK) to build encryption into tape libraries.

Other security vendors making announcements at the SHARE event include startups Trustgenix Inc. and IdentityForge LLC, who announced a partnership to deliver mainframe single sign-on (see Trustgenix & IDF Partner).

Storage is also high on the agenda at SHARE. StorageTek, which is being acquired (ironically enough) by Sun, launched a larger disk system for mainframes and McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) announced new load-balancing features for users of IBM’s zSeries and z9 machines (see StorageTek Targets Mainframe Disk and McData Available for IBM).

Despite all this activity, mainframes are still suffering something of an image problem, particularly with younger IT professionals. Quite simply, the folks that know the technology like the back of their hands will soon be enjoying the pleasures of their 401ks and there is growing concern about who will fill their shoes.Data center managers’ organization AFCOM has already voiced its fears about the fact that the next-generation of IT managers are often mainframe-averse. The user group has even warned that the impending skills shortage could be as expensive as Y2K (see Mainframe Skills Shortage Looms).

IBM and SHARE, in an attempt to resolve this problem, announced plans this week to lure students and young IT professionals over to the mainframe. The funkily titled ‘zNextGen’ initiative aims to provide contacts and resources to help students find mainframe jobs upon graduation, as well as offering a weblog for existing mainframe users (see IBM Creates Community).

As part of the strategy, IBM, which launched the world’s first mainframe back in 1964, has promised to train up to 20,000 mainframe-literate IT professionals by 2010.

What do you think about the mainframe’s prospects? Why not tell us about it on the latest NDCF poll (see Big Iron: Still Hip?)?

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch - and James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum0

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