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IBM aims for user-friendly mainframes

Big Blue will spend $100 million over five years to make the high-end server line easier to administer and program.

IBM will spend $100 million over the next five years to make its mainframe line easier to administer and program, the company said Wednesday.

IBM's decades-old mainframe lineage, called System z and running the z/OS operating system, has grown increasingly distant from mainstream computing with the rise of computers running Unix, Windows and Linux. Big Blue is trying to change that with a modern user interface, visual programming tools and other developments, the company said.

The effort is the latest in a series of moves IBM has made to restore the mainframe's relevance. IBM has made sure mainframes can run Linux and Java and can attach to ordinary computer networks. The company is also working on performance-boosting accelerators for specific software and recently introduced its lowest-priced model, with a comparatively inexpensive starting price of $100,000.

IBM has introduced several usability improvements with its new mainframe operating system, z/OS V1R8, IBM said, and will focus its future work on four specific areas:

• A modern user interface to let current and future administrators configure hardware.

• New visual programming tools so novices can learn mainframe programming quickly.

• Better tools to govern software costs and to simplify software acquisition. Recurring software payments are a major contributor to the expense of mainframe operations.

• Automated checking of configurations to let administrators and programmers predict and avoid technical problems.