Evangelizing Mainframe
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Cloud Mainframe, Mainframe Cloud

All good articles, blogs and philosophy essays begin with a definition—so you know exactly what is being described. Otherwise different readers might well have completely different pictures in their minds about what the author is trying to describe. Well I’m not going to waste time defining a mainframe—the very fact you’re on the Destination z site suggests you know what one is. But what’s cloud computing? That’s where we might all have different pictures.

Many people will remember the good old days of presentations when there would be details of the server side and details of the client side, and slides would just have a cloud of some kind drawn in the middle indicating that you really didn’t need to worry about what was going on there. Nowadays, things are a bit different.

It’s just like Moliere’s character Monsieur Jourdain in “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme,” who discovers “I have been speaking prose all my life, and didn’t even know it.” We, too, come to find that we’ve been using cloud-computing ideas all our lives on a mainframe and didn’t even know it! But even better than that, it now appears that IBM is going to develop a cloud-computing platform based on System z.

So if we try to define cloud computing we might say it has the ability to provide a shared pool of computing resources that can be conveniently provisioned and reconfigured, with on-demand access requiring minimal service provider interaction. (My thanks to “Are Mainframes the Original Cloud Platform?” for that definition.) A definition that doesn’t sound like it’s one-million miles away from the multi-user platform we’re all very familiar with—the one with a virtualized pool of resources. So, without too much of a stretch at all, we can see that what a mainframe does is very similar to what cloud computing does.

But can we use a mainframe as part of a cloud environment? As far back as September 2009, Jon Oltsik was writing in “Networking Nuggets and Security Snippets” that mainframes provide:
  • A horizontally scalable architecture with parallel sysplex and geographically dispersed parallel sysplex (GDPS)
  • An open-source platform stack—zLinux
  • Unmatched security—Resource Access Control Facility (RACF), Crypto Express2, etc.
  • Virtual networking services—mainframe resources are available over TCP/IP and higher layers of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) stack

And now IBM has announced that Yi Lian Zhong Information Technology (YLZ) plans to develop a cloud-computing platform based on System z .

For many sites suffering from Linux server sprawl, which might think of using Linux for their cloud platform, migrating to a mainframe makes obvious economic and management sense, particularly as the price of a mainframe in real terms is actually falling. And using a mainframe platform overcomes that “bête noire” of cloud-computing projects—security—which can so often hold up their implementation.

And there is another interesting development for many sites, and that’s the zEnterprise with its zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX). Control of potential Windows blades can be from the highly stable and highly reliable mainframe, offering a hybrid cloud platform all in a single box.

The other important consideration about investing in cloud computing is that we’ve all started using it—although we might not think of it as cloud computing yet. Many people store files somewhere on the Web (eg. Microsoft’s Skydrive) so they can access them from any computer. Things like Dropbox, SugarSync, etc., allow you to sharing files with others. Like many people, I use Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, which takes copies of my Word and Excel files and stores them somewhere out there. It means I don’t need to worry about backups anymore, and I can access my files from another computer using my gmail account. I even have Wyse PocketCloud so I can access my laptop from my smartphone and control it. And there are many other examples, eg. my Pogoplug.

What I’m suggesting is people are getting used to the concept of things existing on a cloud, available from anywhere. Therefore, it makes sense to use all the power, security and reliability of a mainframe to provide the services (software, etc.) that people want—especially as mainframes having always been working in that kind of way.

Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd., an IT consultancy. For many years, he was the editorial director for Xephon’s Update publications and is now contributing editor to the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook. Eddolls has written three specialist IT books, and has had numerous technical articles published. He currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups.

Posted: 9/14/2011 3:48:39 PM by Trevor Eddolls

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