Run Windows on the Mainframe

Last week IBM published a general statement of direction that essentially said the zEnterprise will have Windows in the 4th quarter via an x blade for the zBX. The announcement reads, in part, “IBM intends to offer select IBM System x blades running Microsoft Windows in the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension Model 002.”

The zBX is the extension cabinet for the new zEnterprise/z196 mainframe and for the older z10. When the product is released later this year organizations will be able to run native Windows applications through their mainframe.

This isn’t exactly new. IBM has been hinting about this since the zEnterprise announcement last July although it refrained from making any statement that might legally commit them to anything. I have been writing about it for about as long. Here is a Windows on z piece from earlier this year.

Windows on the System z (or the zBX as is the case here) raises some interesting issues. Of immediate interest is the question of which Windows workloads might be best moved to the zEnterprise. Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint, probably the company’s two most popular enterprise server applications, are good bets to stay where they are now.

Similarly, the Microsoft Office Suite will stay where it is unless someone wants to attempt to virtualize a slew of Office desktops on a handful of zBX IBM x blades as a VDI play. IBM, however, is pushing VDI separately as a cloud workload.

In response to which workloads, IBM’s reply is as follows: enterprises with one or more applications running in a complex, heterogeneous, multi-tiered environment have the opportunity to upgrade that infrastructure with zEnterprise and enjoy the management benefits that the Unified Resource Manager brings. The most likely candidates are those Windows apps that make use of data or processing residing the z, which is IBM’s basic fit-for-purpose strategy.

IBM also is not expecting a wholesale migration of Windows servers to the z. Again the IBM spokesman explains: Many of the largest data centers already have far more blades and/or rack-mounted [Windows] servers in their inventory than could realistically fit into the zBX.

What IBM does hope for, according to the spokesman, are workloads that rely on System z for data serving and contain other application components running on System z, Power, or Intel that are required to complete the end-to-end business process. Companies with such applications running in these two- or three-tier environments may be ideal candidates for zEnterprise running the new System x blades.

Beyond these basic fit-for-purpose statements IBM isn’t saying much about blade pricing, performance, or software licensing. This serves two purposes for IBM: 1) it avoids binding promises to which it might be held, and probably as importantly, 2) it freezes the competitive market. Multi-platform, multi-tier enterprises considering an upgrade of their Windows servers to the latest offerings from HP or Oracle (Sun) or others now know this IBM option is coming in the fourth quarter and may wait until they see the pricing, licensing, and performance details.

With the System x blade and Windows IBM indeed can make a strong case for re-centralizing on the zEnterprise, especially for multi-tier, multi-platform enterprises. This case will be based on the zEnterprise’s centralized management efficiency, the potential for greater optimization, and the resulting performance improvements. It’s a good story that could catch on if IBM keeps the pricing competitive.

But a more intriguing question: is it enough to attract NON-mainframe shops to the zEnterprise/zBX? Maybe, especially if IBM offers compelling discounts as it has been known to do.

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