It appears that the mainframe, despite many forecasts of its demise, is not yet dead.

IBM has laid out a new road map for its mainframe computing platform, which over the next year will include adoption of the Common Information Model (CIM) standard allowing different systems to exchange information.

David Mastrobattista, marketing manager for the IBM zSeries mainframe, said the goal is to extend the capabilities of the mainframe in a heterogeneous enterprise environment.

Although IBM's announcement focused on the company's overall direction, it did offer some product news. In particular, IBM said it plans to develop a 64-bit version of its z/Transaction Processing Facility on Linux, a mainframe operating system now used in the travel, finance and public-sector markets. The move to Linux and 64-bit, which should be available by the third quarter of next year, will roughly double transaction processing to 25,000 transactions per second.

CIM is a standards effort that has been undertaken by Distributed Management Task Force, and is a broad vendor consortium that includes IBM as well as Dell, HP, Sun and Intel.

The road map envisions the spread of mainframe capabilities throughout an enterprise. Those capabilities include IBM's Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS), a clustering technology for dynamically managing and mirroring critical storage, processor and network resources and for extending the technology to the Linux environment. Ultimately, IBM wants to make it possible for other platforms to use GDPS capabilities.

One zSeries user, Paul Mercurio, senior vice president and CIO at Mobil Travel Guide, was unfamiliar with the plan details, but said IBM's overall goal appears to make sense. "I think it's inevitable" that if the mainframe is going to survive as a platform, it must "be part of an overall environment," said Mercurio. Mainframes "can handle a lot of work dependably, and that's why people buy them." Mercurio, who is running Linux on his zSeries, said he believes most companies have plans to migrate to an open software environment, even if it's running on a mainframe.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, said the message IBM is trying to send is that the "mainframe is still the best at doing certain types of things."

The kinds of things to which Haff refers include on-demand computing, which is widely touted -- especially by IBM -- as the next coming trend in corporate computing, involving as it does the purchase of computing power like electricity.

However, IT managers have responded ambivalently to the whole concept, so the mainframe's future may yet hang in the balance.