The Mainframe Cometh

 Posted by on Jun 27, 2008  Add comments
Jun 272008

It is back. And it is angry.

And it is called virtualization. And it has people afraid. But not me.

Think of it. All CPU cycles completely fungible. Imagine the possibilities.

Got 500 idle desktops running Microsoft Vista? Assign the CPU and I/O resources to your core ERP system. Need to bring up seven servers with a full middleware stack (web server, app server, message-oriented middleware server). No problem. Virtualize it. Have an Oracle database that you’d like to virtualize across different physical servers? Sure! Just don’t tell Oracle. Need to quickly relocate services from one data center to another. Piece of cake.

And you can do all this while being environmentally friendly. Imaging removing 5,000 PCs and replacing them with low energy thin client devices. After all, 5,000 PCs are mostly idle. It’s better to think about them as space heaters. After all, that’s what they do best anyway — give off heat. Think of the utility bill savings. Think green. Capitalism and environmentalism aligned, heaven forbid!

All the IT baby boomers looking at retirement must be relishing the opportunities. Why, not too long ago, I remember conversations on what to do with the old mainframers who have outdated skills that aren’t appropriate for the days of the Internet. Not so fast. Those mainframe skills may come in handy. And soon.

One of the emerging conversation pieces among the IT workers in their 50s is how to get skills and certifications in virtualization. Given the stock market lately, those mainframers may want to take advantage of the trend and work a few years longer or seek higher paying jobs that can leverage old skills.

Microsoft has recently unveiled its virtualization product Hyper-V, which is designed to compete with very successful products from VMWare. In typical Microsoft fashion, they are “taking oxygen out of the market” by bundling it in Server 2008 or as a standalone download for, ahem, $28. Is that value-based pricing?

Hence the fear. Microsoft is taking aim against VMWare. So are other competitors who want a bite out of VMWare’s commanding market share. While the benefits are obvious to companies and IT executives, the risks to entrenched players with positions of inertia to defend (e.g., Microsoft) are also clear.

In this new wrinkle, who will buy whom? Will someone like Intel buy VMWare? Would Microsoft buy it and euthanize it? Would Apple bite on VMWare? Or who would VMWare buy? Motorola? Please no! How about Sony? What would a virtualized PlayStation be used for? Will virtualization eat gaming devices too? The market speculations are interesting.

Where will the market end up on this? If it proceeds as it has now, I predict that virtualization will eat servers, storage and workstations alive within 10 years. And in 10 years time, increased web services and the modularization of software, along with the complexities of running a data center from a virtualization and energy management perspective will cause nearly all companies to outsource their data centers.

When that happens, we can say “The mainframe has left the building!”


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