Two Tribes, One Future: Bringing Mainframes Into the IT Mainstream

Too many enterprises are running parallel IT operations, with big iron and distributed groups barely crossing paths, let alone sharing hard-earned expertise. CIOs need to get this schism under control lest businesses end up the ultimate casualties of high-tech turf warfare.

Michael Healey, Senior Contributing Editor

July 31, 2009

5 Min Read

The Linux Connection

Winn-Dixie's bankruptcy was a painful process that eventually created a new, better IT organization; the grocery chain is now posting solid financial results. A less radical way to get teams to get along and start focusing on the business issues at hand is to go right at the core integration point--your Linux environment. Not the OS itself, but the applications on top of it.

"If you're focusing on Web services with Linux back-end engines, you shouldn't even be thinking about the platform. That only matters once you start mapping out your data. Let your underlying database and required performance drive which platform hosts the app servers; the answer typically jumps right out at you if you're willing to look," says Mark Malinoski, a senior application architect for a national health insurance provider who has worked in both environments.

Problem is, too many of us aren't looking. While 89% of respondents who run Linux on the mainframe also run it on their distributed platforms, only 27% of these folks have a single coordinated Linux team. The rest have separate groups, sometimes with little or no interaction. Here's some real low-hanging fruit. Not only can CIOs better leverage both teams, they also could start them on a path toward working together at the OS level. However, don't expect everyone to be excited.

One director at a Midwest financial institution says his group is actively looking at z/VM but is getting push back. "The Linux OS staff are fearful that they will inherit z/OS when the geezers who run it retire," he says. They needn't worry, because the environment is just not that different. In fact, CA told us about a test done internally where engineers were shown two Linux instances, one on a mainframe, one on x86. The majority couldn't tell the difference.

So the staffing concern is real, but hardly insurmountable. If you can get the application and OS teams together, the next step is to bridge the virtualization divide. Again, very few organizations are approaching virtualization in terms of a single enterprise strategy across all platforms. Most are working in departmental silos with no overall coordination.

5 Fast Facts

What else do CIOs need to consider when combining teams?

1. Big Blue has a lock on big iron.
There are niche players left, including Hitachi and Unysis, but 96% of our respondents list IBM as their mainframe vendor. 2. Inefficiency is rampant when teams aren't combined.
Backups, maintenance, disaster recovery, compliance--all are duplicated. 3.There are cloud mainframe apps
--IBM has outlined a DB2 vision in the cloud, and there are other Cobol options--but everything is at an early stage, far too soon to affect your operations. 4. Virtualization is old hat for mainframe staff.
Distributed teams that ignore this opportunity will miss out on operational insights. 5. No Windows.
Accept that it's highly unlikely Microsoft will ever port the Windows line to the mainframe and risk damaging its Intel partnership.

Our survey showed a variety of hosts, with VMware, z/VM, and Citrix as the top three environments. However, there's a definite disconnect when it comes to the platform selection process. The vast majority of organizations without mainframes don't consider big iron an option for virtualizing their distributed environments.

Even if a company does have a mainframe, 24% of organizations still don't consider it an option for distributed server virtualization. That's incredibly shortsighted. Not only is there likely significant experience with the fundamentals of virtualization on the mainframe side, you may have already paid for the licensing. IBM retooled its programs a few years ago, introducing separate licensing engines for Linux and z/VM. That doesn't mean distributed-only shops should consider adding a mainframe, of course, but if you've got one, your Linux virtualization plan may be able to leverage the existing investment, especially if the primary database targets for the Linux servers reside on the mainframe.

Now, we're also not saying everything should be virtualized, on the mainframe or otherwise. There will always be cases when you'll do traditional installations--systems with integrated peripherals, applications that make hardware calls, and security appliances jump to mind. But IT shops that don't have virtualization plans are probably also still holding onto their Banyan Vines CDs, hoping for a resurgence.

Weston confirms the level of confidence and focus an integrated shop can have when it comes to virtualizing a Windows environment. Winn-Dixie is currently virtualizing "everything we have," including pulling remote-site processing back to a virtualized core. Virtualization platform selection (mainframe or x86) depends solely on the best fit for the application. Now that's a truce we can all get behind.

Michael Healey is the president of Yeoman Technology Group and a contributor for InformationWeek and Network Computing. He has more than 23 years experience in technology and software integration.

chart: Distributed vs. Mainframe: Distributed's Perception: Based on what you know about mainframes, how do you think your distributed x86 environment compares in these areas?
(click image for larger view) Continue to the sidebar:
Mainframes And Your Total Enterprise Virtualization Strategy

About the Author(s)

Michael Healey

Senior Contributing Editor

Mike Healey is the president of Yeoman Technology Group, an engineering and research firm focusing on maximizing technology investments for organizations, and an InformationWeek contributor. He has more than 25 years of experience in technology integration and business development. Prior to founding Yeoman, Mike served as the CTO of national network integrator GreenPages. He joined GreenPages as part of the acquisition of TENCorp, where he served as president for 14 years. He has a BA in operations management from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MBA from Babson College. He is a regular contributor for InformationWeek, focusing on the business challenges related to implementing technology, focusing on the impact of Internet- and cloud-centric technology.

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