mainframes have done for years, he’ll say.
“A mainframe is a cloud,” contends Jon Toigo, CEO
of Toigo Partners International, a data management
consultancy in Dunedin, Fla.
If you, like Toigo, define a cloud as a resource that can
be dynamically provisioned and made available within a
company with security and good management controls,
“then all of that exists already in a mainframe,” he says.
Of course, Toigo’s isn’t the only definition of what
constitutes a cloud. Most experts say that a key attribute of the cloud is that the dynamic provisioning is
self-service — that is, at the user’s demand.
But the controlled environment of the mainframe,
which is the basis for much of its security, traditionally requires an administrator to provision computing
power for specific tasks. That’s why the mainframe
has a reputation as old technology that operates under
an outdated IT paradigm of command and control.
It’s also one of the reasons why most cloud computing today runs on x86-based distributed architectures,
not mainframes. Other reasons: Mainframe hardware
is expensive, licensing and software costs tend to be
high, and there is a shortage of mainframe skills.
Nevertheless, mainframe vendors contend that
many companies want to use their big iron for cloud
computing. In a CA Technologies-sponsored survey
of 200 U.S. mainframe executives last fall, 73% of the
respondents said that their mainframes were a part of
their future cloud plans.
And IBM has been promoting mainframes as cloud
platforms for several years. The company’s introduction last year of the zEnterprise, which gives organizations the option of combining mainframe and
distributed computing platforms under an umbrella of
common management, is a key part of IBM’s strategy
to make mainframes a part of the cloud, say analysts.
The company set the stage 10 years ago when
it gave all of its mainframes, starting with zSeries
S/390, the ability to run Linux. While mainframes
had been virtualizing since the introduction of the
VM operating system 30 years earlier, once IBM
added Linux, you could run virtual x86 servers on a
Over the past several years, some organizations
have done just that, consolidating and virtualizing x86
servers using Linux on the mainframe. Once you start
doing that, you have the basis for a private cloud.
“You have this incredibly scalable server that’s
The Sticking Point: Provisioning
very strong in transaction management,” says Judith
Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associ-
ates, an IT consultancy in Needham, Mass. “Here’s
this platform that has scalability and partitioning
built in at its core.”
Plus, the mainframe’s strongest assets — reliabil-
ity, availability, manageability and security — are
the very characteristics that companies are most
concerned about as they consider rolling out major
business applications in the cloud, she says.
But that lack of support for self-provisioning is glaring.
“The mainframe is very well controlled in most organi-
zations, often to the point where it’s locked in a room
and people can’t access it,” says Julie Craig, an analyst
at Enterprise Management Associates. “[Mainframe
vendors] are going to have to do some developing to
allow the self-service features of the cloud.”
Reed Mullen, IBM’s System z cloud comput-
ing leader, says that the lack of self-provisioning is
cultural, not technological. Companies could enable
self-provisioning in mainframes either by using
IBM’s Tivoli Service Automation Manager or through
custom development, he says.
And yet he acknowledges that such implementations would still depend on the I T department — users
wouldn’t have full self-service autonomy. Specifically,
mainframe systems with self-provisioning options
would require a user to submit a request by email,
and IT would have to approve the request before the
resources were provisioned, Mullen explains. This reflects the “old habits” of the mainframe world, he says.
But he also notes that any kind of cloud implementation, including those on distributed systems, would
include an approval process.
“I know the perception is that the user doesn’t have
to bother anybody in I T — that I just have to point
and click to get my service,” Mullen says. But in every
cloud scenario, he adds, there’s some kind of approval
process — a way to prioritize the requests — even
though that process may not “require human eyes.”
As for the licensing costs, Mullen says that IBM’s
current generation, System z, has a little-used “on-
off” feature, whereby mainframe administrators can
turn a processor core on for a limited time, paying
short-term day rates for IBM software rather than
buying an expensive annual license based on the
number of processor cores. “We are looking at taking
advantage of this infrastructure to make it even more
suitable for a cloud environment where there is a lot
of unpredictable usage,” says Mullen.
But it’s hard to find an organization that’s using
a mainframe in a self-provisioned cloud computing
system. Some analysts say the talk of the mainframe
as cloud is just hype. The technology may indeed
exist, but the question is whether companies are