The head of IBM's mainframe group is looking to bring mobile and social workloads into the platform in another move that would help the mainframe stay relevant and fend off competition from lower-cost systems.
The mainframe has confounded predictions that it would go the way of the dodo, partly because IBM keeps adding capabilities to modernize it and widen its appeal. But it's still a costly system for which IBM needs to justify customers' continued investment.
In the past, the company has added specialty chips for running workloads such as Java and Linux; allowed users to manage their Power and x86 servers from their mainframe console, and introduced smaller, "business class" machines to attract new customers.
They're all moves to help the mainframe compete against lower-cost systems, such as Unix and even x86 servers, which have gained more reliability and security features over time.
Among the next steps IBM is considering is making it easier for customers to run some of their mobile and even social networking applications on the mainframe, said Doug Balog, general manager of IBM's System z mainframe business, in an interview this week.
"I see there's a trend in the market we haven't directly connected to z yet, and that's this mobile-social platform," he said.
Mainframes are used by big companies such as banks and telcos that are willing to pay a premium for maximum security and uptime, but to deploy mobile and social applications, those firms often turn to other platforms better suited to their development.
But if a bank, for example, wants to offer its customers a mobile banking app, it would prefer to have the resilience of a mainframe behind it, said Balog, who uses the term "social-mobile" as if it were a single workload, because he sees them as closely aligned.
"I'm still trying to figure out where social-mobile come together on z. There's clearly a play there, and we've got to do some more work around that," he said. He's still deciding the best way to do it, but one option is to bring more of IBM's WebSphere application server software onto IBM's z systems.
"Clearly WebSphere runs on the mainframe already for transaction processing, but I bet there's more of that platform that probably, based on this [need for] resiliency, should run there," he said.
Another option is providing tools and services to make it easier for customers to port existing mobile and social apps to the mainframe.
Dealing with mobile devices and related security concerns is top of mind for businesses, so it makes sense if IBM wants to tackle that area, said IDC analyst Jean Bozman.
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