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VMware and the mainframe

Why the path to reliable and efficient server virtualization will lead to the IBM zSeries mainframe.

Enterprise Strategy Group's resident expert on all things server virtualization, Mark Bowker, tells me that there were 15,000 people at VMworld a few weeks ago. Not a surprise, the industry is gaga over server virtualization as more users look to turn physical servers into consolidated virtual partitions.

The irony here is that while the server virtualization chatter focuses on VMware, Xen, Citrix, and Microsoft, the venerable IBM zSeries (i.e. mainframe) will likely be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this virtualization frenzy.

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The reason for this is fairly simple. Server virtualization is all about rationalizing IT assets and costs. Why have a bunch of Intel servers running at 10 percent utilization when you can consolidate them on a single server running at 80 percent utilization?

Once CIOs are willing to follow this line of reasoning, consolidating resources on a mainframe is a logical next step. Mainframe virtualization is rock solid, operationally efficient, and well understood. Intel server virtualization, on the other hand, remains a work in progress. When CIOs take the time to "do the math" they will find that the ROI on moving 20 old Sun systems to Linux-based mainframe VMs is a lot higher than creating 100 virtual Intel server partitions on 10 physical boxes.

IBM gets this value and has 30-plus years of experience in marketing mainframe virtualization. Beyond vision alone, IBM also has tons of charts, graphs, and customer-use cases illustrating TCO and ROI benefits, that extend from rationalizing hardware assets to reducing the corporate carbon footprint. Of course, most users are embracing VMware for Windows consolidation, something that the zSeries system can't do today. True, but IBM can still roll a blade server in (for Windows virtualization) next to the mainframe (for Linux virtualization) and manage the whole ball of wax through Tivoli operations-management tools. The mainframe still wins.

It's funny. When you think about VMware, green IT, SOA and other trendy IT topics you never even consider the mainframe. Nevertheless, IBM continues to repurpose the platform, sell more MIPS, and give customers more platform bang for the buck. In the case of server virtualization, the whole industry is making IBM's case. Technologies come and go, but the mainframe never seems to go out of style.