March 30, 2011, 3:59 PM — Mention cloud computing to a mainframe professional, and he's likely to roll his eyes. Cloud is just a new name -- and a lot of hype -- for what mainframes have done for years, he'll say.
"A mainframe is a cloud," contends Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International, a data management consultancy in Dunedin, Fla.
If you, like Toigo, define a cloud as a resource that can be dynamically provisioned -- that is, allocated and de-allocated on demand -- and made available within a company with security and good management controls, "then all of that exists already in a mainframe," he says.
Of course, Toigo's is not the only definition of what constitutes a cloud. Most experts say that a key attribute of the cloud is that the dynamic provisioning is self-service -- that is, at the user's demand.
But the controlled environment of the mainframe, and the basis for much of its security, traditionally requires an administrator to provision computing power to specific tasks. That's the basis for the mainframe's reputation as old technology that operates under an outdated IT paradigm of command and control.
That's just one of the reasons why most cloud computing today runs on X86-based distributed architectures, not mainframes. Other reasons: mainframe hardware is expensive, licensing and software costs tend to be high as well, and there is a shortage of mainframe skills.
Big iron, meet cloud
Nevertheless, mainframe vendors contend that many companies want to use their big iron for cloud computing. In a CA Technologies-sponsored survey of 200 U.S. mainframe executives last fall, 73% of the respondents said that their mainframes were a part of their future cloud plans.
And IBM has been promoting mainframes as cloud platforms for several years. The company's introduction last year of the zEnterprise, which gives organizations the option of combining mainframe and distributed computing platforms under an umbrella of common management, is a key part of IBM's strategy to make mainframes a part of the cloud, say analysts.