IT systems supplier Logicalis is offering UK enterprises the chance to design and build a bespoke mainframe platform in order to evaluate the economic and environmental potential of deploying a big iron solution.

Logicalis launched what it calls the UK's first "IBM System Z Workload Consolidation Test Environment", hosted on an actual IBM Series Z mainframe at a Logicalis’ data centre in Bracknell.

"The mainframe's reputation as a costly and cumbersome technology is today replaced by a new breed of platform, which is beating distributed systems hands down when it comes to efficiency, cost and environmental credentials," said Martin Boakes, IBM System Z specialist at Logicalis.

"By providing a free test environment, organisations can see for themselves the potential of a mainframe platform and establish whether this is the appropriate strategy to pursue."

The Test Environment uses IBM System z/VM, Linux OS and Oracle.

"It is an up-to-date IBM Series Z mainframe," said Boakes. "Logicalis has been working with IBM to create this environment and exploit the functions of Series Z."

"Since the distributed environment argument of 1990s, the drivers of IT today have remained the same; namely power, heating, cost, cooling, security, ease of management," Boakes told Techworld. "When you take all that into consideration, the way forward is centralised computing."

"There is a place for Series Z to be cornerstone of this," he added. "When you look at virtualisation, it typically has server ratios of 4 or 5 to one, for a VMware environment. With the IBM Z, the ratio is more like hundreds of servers to one. The ratio is quite significant."

Boakes insists that companies can experience running a mainframe first hand, free of charge. "It is absolutely hands on," he said. "A customer can run their workload on our machine, I am absolutely happy to do it. If they only want to talk about it, I am also absolutely happy to do that as well."

"This came about through customer demand," said Boakes, after customers approached him with question marks about running mainframes. "We developed this test centre and now customers come to us and ask about the skills to run it."

Boakes sees both new and existing mainframe users interested in trying out the service. "Existing customers, of course, they are big clients," he said. "But there are also a portion of smaller customers, who previously thought mainframes were too big and expensive. This is because mainframe TCO has reduced." And the actual cost of a mainframe is often not as expensive nowadays, with entry level mainframes now starting at £60,000 for a very small system.

And it seems that mainframe usage is on the rise. According to Boakes, "2007 saw a 15 percent growth in installed capacity."

Meanwhile Martin Hingley of analyst house IDC confirms that mainframes are "not going away."

"They are still widely used in the UK banking industry, which continues to use IBM mainframes, CICS and IMS for transaction processing," he said.

"In the UK the asset value of associated servers (IBM zSeries, iSeries and an assortment of other machines from Unisys, Fujitsu, etc) represented about 10 percent of the total," said Hingley.

"What we are seeing is a huge resurgence back into the mainframe," said Boakes. "It could be green IT, or it could just be server consolidation. Personally, I don't think it is about green IT though, as green issues are more often than not just about efficient IT, not green IT."

"It could also be the high utilisation rate of mainframes," he added, citing intelligent workload managers and a mainframe's ability to run at 100 percent.

And it seems that the mainframe is breaking out of its financial sector heartland. "It is not just existing mainframe people we are talking to," Boakes added. "It is Linux and Oracle administrators. To be honest, some apps do not fit well on mainframe. The type of applications that fits well is high I/O databases."

"We are seeing an awful lot of retail customers, not just the banking industry." Boakes attributed this to the issue of speed to market, claiming that a typical application is much quicker to deploy via a mainframe.

The Logicalis mainframe testing service is also available to European customers, but at the moment it is mostly UK customers. There is a Logicalis Series Z team in US as well.

Parties interested in testing a mainframe deployment are advised to contact Logicalis directly.