The Mainframe Push: What’s in it for Developers?
Amid the huge growth in distributed database architecture providers and the rise of services that sit atop the public cloud such as Ravello Systems, which offers nested virtualization service that allows organizations to easily spin up replica environments for QA, testing, and other uses, IBM again is pushing the mainframe and plans to aggressively woo developers.
This week, IBM announced two Linux-only mainframes; software bundles focused on mobile, analytics, cloud and DevOps; a KVM hypervisor supported by SUSE; and a collaboration with Canonical to create an Ubuntu distribution for its mainframes.
Meanwhile, the Linux Foundation announced the Open Mainframe Project, a new collaboration between founding partners IBM, Compuware, Marist College, RSM Partners and SUSE to focus on scalability, availability, performance and security. It aims to give developers access to mainframes they can play around with and provide more mainframe training.
This mainframe push begs the question of why a developer building scaled-out apps would consider a mainframe when they can use one of the major public cloud services.
AWS fan Simon Wardley flatly said he had no idea why a developer would want to do that. Others can see some possibilities:
“It’s effective if a company is still scared of AWS, which there are a lot of,” said Adron Hall, co-founder of Deconstructed, a site that uses APIs to provide a single view of the user from multiple data streams.
The mainframe provides a core powerhouse, if a company can afford that kind of capital outlay, he said. (IBM also announced a pricing option based on monthly usage to help with cost.)
“The 2.5 billion transactions a day [that IBM says its systems can process] with fraud detection is a little impressive, but still nothing compared to what can be effectively scaled with AWS however,” he said, though if that transaction level is the base, “and AWS is used for bleed-off [i.e., Black Friday transactions] then this isn’t a bad idea, and may even pan out over time on CAPEX and OPEX.”
Running on Linux makes it “an obvious developers dream,” he said.
“This puppy would run pretty much anything — even .NET these days — like a total boss,” he said.
IBM has a long history of supporting Linux on the mainframe but Ubuntu is the Linux of the cloud. By working with Canonical on production support, IBM can finally fully engage with cloud-first developers, not just traditional ISVs, says James Governor, principal analyst and founder of RedMonk.
IBM already supported Red Hat and SUSE, but he calls adding Ubuntu “a different thing entirely.”
“For a stateless scale-out app, the mainframe may not be the obvious target, but we’re increasingly seeing demand for topologies that look more like scale-out compute with scale-up storage — and the mainframe can certainly play there.
“Bottom line: The modern cloud open source developer expects to use Ubuntu. Now they can. This helps turn the mainframe from a place to run packaged apps to a place to develop new ones,” he said.
Chris Swan, CTO at Cohesive Networks, admits his experience with mainframes has been with projects to move things off them.
“The mainframe is all about scale up rather than scale out, so there are cases where it might be much simpler to do things on one giant box rather than going to the trouble of spreading things out and dealing with all of the distributed compute problems that go along with that,” he said.
“I don’t know if this [mainframe push] is aimed at developers so much as making mainframes more useful (and a little more sticky) for companies that already have them,” he said.
He posed this scenario:
“As mainframes come in big chunks it helps address the problem of if I have 1.1 mainframes of work then I have to lease two mainframes, so what do I do with my residual 0.9? (And it’s not as if they’re cheap.) The answer to that seems to be take a high-throughput app and put it on the mainframe rather than buying or renting a bunch of extra servers. At that point Linux, and everything that comes with it like Java, becomes a way of not having to deal with COBOL, etc.”
“The mainframe never goes away,” he said, “it just becomes a denser nucleus at the center of an onion architecture, and if you can push stuff that would have cost extra servers from an out layer onto capacity you bought anyway, then that’s good.”
IBM and Red Hat are sponsors of The New Stack.