I spoke today at SHARE’s biannual conference, giving a talk on emerging data center architectures, x86 servers, and internal clouds. SHARE is an organization which describes itself as “representing over 2,000 of IBM's top enterprise computing customers.” In other words, definitely a mainframe geekfest, as described by one attendee. I saw hundreds of people around my age (think waaay over 30), and was able to swap stories of my long-ago IBM mainframe programming experience (that’s what we called “Software Engineering” back when it was FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/1 and BAL. I was astounded to see that IMS was still a going thing, with sessions on the agenda, and in a show of hands, at least a third of the audience reported still running IMS.

Oh well, dinosaurs may survive in some odd corners of the world, and IMS workloads, while not exciting, are a necessary and familiar facet of legacy applications that have decades of stability and embedded culture behind them…

But wait! Look again at the IMS session right next door to my keynote. It was about connecting zLinux and IMS. Other sessions included more zLinux, WebSphere and other seemingly new-age topics. Again, my audience confirmed the sea-change in the mainframe world. Far more compelling than any claims by IBM reps was the audience reaction to a question about zLinux – more than half of them indicated that they currently run zLinux, a response which was much higher than I anticipated. Further discussions after the session with several zLinux users left me with some strong impressions:

  • zLinux is real, stable, and very much a part of life at many very large mainframe shops.
  • IBM has successfully supported its largest customers in migrating their Linux, Websphere and other related workloads to the z-Series.
  • Mainframe users are passionate about their systems, and very few of them passed up the chance tell me that they were running on a system with a 40 year hardware MTBFJ.
  • The successful workloads on zLinux were often those that were associated with other mainframe elements, such as IMS or other databases.

So, all in all a real eye-opener, and a wakeup call about stereotyping – the mainframe and its associated community appears to be alive and well and looking forward, while capitalizing on its legacy roots as the high-volume engine that drives many of the world’s largest corporations.