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

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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.

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Two groups with a lot in common and plenty to lose are separated by management, perception, and old feuds and prejudices. Money is tight, and fighting words are flying. Not everywhere, mind you--most of the 831 business technology professionals responding to our InformationWeek Analytics Mainframe Survey say their companies use both mainframes and distributed systems, and choose based on the best platform for a given task. But the radical fringe is alive, well, and possibly living in your data center.

"The distributed model of computing is far more powerful than the centralized mainframe model," says one respondent. Another says he'd consider moving to a mainframe only if it were running as a Windows Server 64-bit OS with virtual Windows Servers in both 64 and 32 bit. Dream on, buddy.

Our research also brought in some choice comments from the big iron camp. What's most disturbing here is the wasted opportunity. IT professionals love to talk the talk about convergence. Whether it's voice, video, security, mobile devices, or the cloud, we hold meetings on, write proposals about, and study new ways to combine operations and save money. But the convergence opportunity of the decade could be right in front of us, in the form of making mainframe and distributed computing teams one. Will CIOs walk the walk, even if there's political heat attached?

"Bringing your teams together has to start at the top," says Charlie Weston, group VP of information technology at grocery chain Winn-Dixie, one of only a few organizations we know of that has successfully reorganized IT to bring mainframe and distributed factions under one banner. The team has two subgroups, architecture and operations. One designs it, one runs it. All platforms are managed together; mainframe and distributed teams work together and report to the same person.

Winn-Dixie wasn't always set up this way. Until a few years ago, it mirrored most other companies in our survey, with separate groups that tended to work in their own silos. The IT leadership always knew this wasn't the best way to be organized, but didn't do anything about it. So how did Weston achieve collaboration nirvana? Divine inspiration? An especially motivating ITIL seminar?

Bankruptcy. The chain, which is based in Jacksonville, Fla., went through a massive shakeup as part of its 2005 bankruptcy filing. As part of the 21-month reorganization process, IT was configured from the ground up as one team. "It required a real commitment and focus to pull everyone together," says Weston, in what we suspect is an understatement.

More companies need to follow Winn-Dixie's lead, albeit without the whole Chapter 11 part. Merging core systems, operations, staffing, and support will let CIOs deliver the best possible IT services and can bring significant savings in a variety of areas.

As we discuss in our full report, available at, more of us have big iron on site than you might think: Mainframes are in use in 90% of the Fortune 1,000 and a large percentage of midmarket companies, according to IBM and the Computer & Communications Industry Association. About 70% of mainframe users among our poll respondents have expanded their deployments over the past year, despite the economy. The fastest growth seems to be Linux running under z/VM, IBM's virtualization OS for the mainframe, based on IBM's first-quarter 2009 results.

The first step to detente? Rally everyone around Linux and virtualization.

chart: Mainframe vs. Distributed: Mainframe's Perception: Comparing your mainframe environment to your distributed x86 environment, how would you rate performance in these areas?
(click image for larger view)

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