Mainframes such as IBM's S/390 face increasing competition from high-end Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, SGI, Compaq and others. But most agree that mainframes, while expensive to buy and maintain, are still better suited for systems that must remain online and handle many simultaneous connections, and where the computer must communicate quickly with a database.
E-commerce is one area where mainframes can make sense. Another is customer relationship management (CRM) software, which handles tasks such as keeping track of what phone service a customer has, how often they missed payments, and when a good time might be for the phone company to try to sell Caller ID.
Siebel Systems, one of the dominant CRM companies, plans to make its software available for S/390 computers later this year, the company said.
The new version of OS/390, the S/390 operating system, is better suited to CRM and to e-commerce, IBM said. For e-commerce, the new version makes it easier to translate Unix programs to the S/390 and connect to databases using Sun Microsystems' Java technologies; supports hardware that automatically encrypts and decrypts information; and has the ability to handle XML data.
IBM also is putting Linux on its S/390, arguing that Linux is a common ingredient in Internet operations.