Mainframes Remain Relevant

Indeed, the company on Feb. 9 disclosed a consolidation project with First National Bank of Omaha that it said was closed in conjunction with a channel partner. The deal includes an eServer zSeries 990 mainframe, 70 eServer BladeCenter systems, and IBM TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller virtualization software.

Robert Hoey, worldwide vice president of sales, enterprise servers at IBM, said approximately 25 percent of the Armonk, N.Y.-based company's mainframe revenue in 2004--and 35 percent in the fourth quarter--was contributed by the company's dozen or so mainframe partners. And when it comes to the zSeries 890 offering, the model specifically targeted at midsize accounts, that contribution number jumps to 60 percent, he said.

"There's a respect in the industry for mainframe skills," said Roger Luca, executive vice president for Mainline Information Systems, an IBM Business Partner in Tallahasee, Fla., that racked up $200 million in zSeries-related business last year.

"We still need the high priests," Hoey said, referring to the integration skills needed for the infrastructure consolidation projects that the zSeries enable.

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That's why IBM plans to train an additional 20,000 people on the platform by 2010, with a wary eye to market research that suggests many existing mainframe technical experts will retire in another two years, he said.

By exposing key business partners to these skills, IBM not only can broaden its mainframe footprint with smaller enterprises it can better leverage partners in convincing customers who are contemplating a switch off mainframes that they should at least stay in the IBM server family, Hoey said.

Luca pointed to the zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP) and specialty engines for deploying Java as just two features that have helped Mainline use existing mainframe hardware for with additional application workloads. Customers are also responding to IBM's security message, he said.

Likewise, Joe Mertens, executive vice president of Sirius Computer Solutions, an IBM partner in San Antonio, Texas, that has about 200 U.S. zSeries customers, said his accounts are moving additional workloads to the mainframe line, especially for applications related to Linux and WebSphere. Public sector work continues to grow fastest, he said.