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New job for mainframes: Cloud platform

Tam Harbert | March 31, 2011
Mainframes are stable, secure and under your control -- perfect for anchoring a private cloud -- but where's the user provisioning?

Marist's cloud is starting to get some attention. "Four years ago, when I started talking about this, everybody looked at me like I was crazy," Thirsk says, but as the years have passed, others have taken an interest in Marist's computing environment. He notes that he has hosted lots of visitors eager to learn what the college is doing, including representatives from 21 companies and several universities last year. "We're talking to a college in the Middle East that has over 200,000 students," he says. "There's only one way to meet that load -- with a mainframe."


Capacity plus reliability

It was the lure of high capacity and high reliability that drove Transzap to move its cloud-based software-as-a-service offering from an in-house distributed platform onto an in-house mainframe in 2008.

A 100-employee company that provides software systems for the energy industry, Transzap offers a service called Oildex, an online financial digital data exchange and collaborative workflow system that manages invoices and other financial information. As a SaaS provider, Transzap is primarily concerned with reliability. "If we're down, [our customers] can't cut checks to their vendors," says David Marts, vice president of operations at Oildex.

Four years ago, when I started talking about this, everybody looked at me like I was crazy.
Bill Thirsk, CIO, Marist College

As Transzap's business grew, so did the size of the Oracle database that supported its financial services.

As the company was evaluating ways to scale up capacity, Oildex had several significant outages, one of which left it down for more than eight hours. When the company tried to determine the cause of the failure, it got nothing but finger-pointing among its various hardware and software vendors. "We could not get anybody to own up to why it failed," says Marts.

Transzap compared the price of a System z business-class mainframe to that of the cluster of new servers it was going to need, and it found that the costs were about the same: about $550,000, says Marts. But the mainframe was more reliable, and Transzap liked the idea of dealing with just one vendor.

The deciding factor, however, was the fact that the mainframe ran Linux. "We're a Linux shop by heritage, slanted toward open systems wherever possible," says Marts. "So we could leverage our Linux experience and skill set." And Oildex has had no outages related to the mainframe.

Transzap's System z lease expires next year, and Marts plans to re-evaluate all options -- distributed and mainframe, particularly the zEnterprise that can combine both. "Because we've stayed on Linux, if we decide that it makes more sense to switch to a different platform, our customers will never know the difference. So we maintain control of our destiny," says Marts.


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