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Mainframe thoughts

By John Taffinder, CEO of Shoden Data Systems UK.

The 1960s; the decade that brought us the Beatles, the jet engine, space travel and the first comprehensive attempt to build an enterprise computing platform – the mainframe.

IBM, with its 360 series, and the now obsolete BUNCH (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC, and Honeywell) group of companies, all approached the market with a common philosophy: to provide a comprehensive, all-embracing, computing platform that was designed with the highest levels of resilience and reliability and that could be used in a wide range of industries and across the whole spectrum of commercial applications.

During the succeeding fifty years, there have been improvements in technology that would have been unthinkable in the sixties and seventies. However, in the face of often overwhelming challenges from non-mainframe technologies, the mainframe has survived, retaining a pre-eminent position in legacy data centres running often the most business-critical systems for the enterprise. This has happened despite IBM holding a monopolistic position in the market following the withdrawal of the BUNCH competitors in the eighties and nineties and of the Japanese Plug Compatible Manufacturers (PCM) at the end of the last century.

While there are very few new applications being written for the mainframe, now IBM’s z series, a recent CA survey showed that 82 percent of the UK’s current mainframe users expect their configurations to continue and actually expand during 2011 due mainly to its reliability and cost-effectiveness. However, they all criticised the high costs of the operating systems and associated software, and the inability to easily reduce these costs.

One area of IT where these issues are clearly visible is back-up and disaster recovery. Most of today’s mainframe users are still using magnetic tape as the medium of choice for their back-up, because historically disk storage was much more expensive than it is today. This poses a wide range of problems for data centre managers:

* How to back-up the exponentially growing volumes of key data given shorter back-up windows whilst using outdated technology, particularly when their tape infrastructure is approaching end-of–life;

* How to meet ever higher compliance standards for data recovery set by governments and professional bodies;

* How to attain environmental savings of power and space in the data centre as required by corporate management and fundamentally;

* How to ensure that business-critical data is suitably protected.

As a result, data centre managers are looking for ways to eliminate their dependence on physical tape and its off-site vaulting for disaster recovery purposes. A recent survey, conducted by Shoden, of the UK’s mainframe users found that:

* Nearly all respondents still had magnetic tape systems for data back-up and recovery, split roughly 50/50 between IBM and Oracle (Sun/StorageTek) silos;

* Over a third of these tape silos would reach end of life within six months, becoming a major management and cost issue in 2011;

* Ten percent of the respondents did not undertake an annual data recovery exercise because it was perceived to be too difficult;

* Over half of the respondents would like to invest in more current disk-based back-up and recovery technologies, particularly using data de-duplication to recover data at electronic disk-based speed rather than their current mechanical tape-based processes.

Disk-based de-duplication solutions for the mainframe were widely adopted in both the USA and Japan in 2010 by more than 200 end-users who are now enjoying much quicker and more reliable data recovery systems making the necessary testing much easier and more achievable. In addition, these organizations are saving up to 90 percent in floor space compared to a traditional silo environment, with consequent savings in power and cooling.

2011 will be the year when the UK mainframe community abandons its 1980s-style tape technologies to embrace the twenty first century technology of disk-based data deduplication. Just as the Beatles are currently adorning billboards and magazine pages as they debut on MP3 technology, the UK mainframes will move on from of the tape cassettes age.


•Date: 4th Feb 2011 • Region: UK/World •Type: Article •Topic: IT continuity

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