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The Main Thing

Wow! For a minute there, I thought I was back in 1988, as I listened to an IBM presentation on its new mainframe Tuesday. But as I put the phone down, the fuzzy, sepia-tone shimmer that hung over my basement office cleared up all at once, and I could see how the Yellow Brick Road leads oh-so-logically to 2005. I'm bigger, balder and a lot more creaky than I was 17 years ago, but mainframes still make as much sense for large-enterprise server needs today as they did back when my hair was past my shoulders.

Why? Well, let me count the ways. Mainframe environments are still easier to secure than their smaller-machine operating systems are, a point IBM stressed in its announcement of the new System z9 mainframe (one thing that hasn't changed much in 17 years is IBM's "System" nomenclature scheme). Virtualization isn't a new buzzword on the mainframe; it's a tried-and-true OS strategy that allows an organization to easily run multiple environments on mature code. And sheer size never hurts: When you can double your prior processing power and offer an environment that can expand to as many as 54 processors, as the z9 does, you're going to draw a lot of serious enterprise interest. It's not at all illogical for businesses with large plants, widespread offices, and/or serious compute-intensive needs to opt for one piece of big iron over an unwieldy server farm.

IBM's moves, as they have so often done, also are spurring the competition forward. Unisys, in particular, reacted immediately; it's tooling its ClearPath mainframe servers to add Java functionality and continuing to adapt to a pay-for-service model that it believes will draw more mainstream enterprise business. With so much coverage of smaller server options, blades, and the needs of the SMB market, it can be easy to forget about the mainframe option. But in the enterprise technology business, sometimes the old ideas are still good ones.

(By the way, I wasn't kidding: I really did have shoulder-length hair when I started covering IT. How time flies...)