IBM never talks publicly about the price of its high-end mainframes, which can cost millions of dollars. But when it touted a new low-end model last week, the systems $100,000 starting price was a featured attraction.
IBM hopes that price will draw new users to the mainframe, especially in developing countries such as China, where the announcement was made. But theres another group of customers that also may consider switching their allegiances: users of IBMs System i5 midrange line.
Gregory Martin, an IT manager for Royal Caribbean Cruises in Miami, is an i5 user. He said the big reason why Royal Caribbean hasnt considered buying a mainframe previously was the cost of the technology.
But the new lower-cost offering, called the System z9 Business Class, is something that we would definitely want to take a look at, Martin said. It may eat in, to some degree, to that [i5] world. One of the things he likes about the idea of using a mainframe, is its ability to support multiple databases, such as Oracle installations. The i5 supports only IBMs DB2.
IBM has been offering a $200,000 mainframe called the z890 for the past two years. But unlike that system, the new model is based on the same technology as the companys high-end machines, which are being renamed the System z9 Enterprise Class.
The Business Class and Enterprise Class systems share many of the same characteristics, including security features and support for specialty processors, such as a device announced last week thats designed to run business intelligence, ERP and CRM workloads. IBM said that the low-cost machine also can be upgraded to an Enterprise Class configuration.
Last year, Mark Shackelford, IT director at Baldor Electric consolidated three mainframes and eight IBM Unix servers onto a single z990 mainframe. Shackelford said he thinks the System z9 Business Class model would be a great place to start for companies that dont already have mainframe experience.
The hard part of getting non-mainframe people to the platform -- and this is IBMs biggest challenge -- is the initial learning curve, he said. People just dont understand the architecture. Once you do learn it, though, you find its a lot easier to administer than a typical Windows and Unix environment.
Shackelford added that, based on his experience, users moving to a mainframe should plan on it taking six months to train their IT staffs and about a year before workers achieve mainframe proficiency.