Iran is subject to severe international sanctions. Most countries cannot legally trade most products with Iranian entities or entities associated with Iran. Of course, most Iranians object to that reality and try to find ways to evade international sanctions to the extent they can.

Yes, there are many IBM mainframes running in Iran. Iranians freely admit this fact, and I’ll share with you what I’ve been able to find with just a bit of research. That reality is despite IBM’s considerable and best efforts to block all its products from embargoed countries, and despite the fact IBM certainly is not answering support calls from or associated with Iran. Presumably some of these current Iranian mainframe users began their mainframe journeys before Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, but other users may have joined the mainframe bandwagon later and recently. There seems to be a vibrant cottage industry of local mainframe sales, service, and support to keep these users (and potential new ones) running as smoothly as possible — illegally, of course, as with myriad other embargoed products. It may or may not be easy to get an IBM mainframe in Iran, and surely it’s impossible to get IBM’s support, but those obstacles clearly haven’t been always insurmountable. And there are no Western software license charges in Iran, so why not run the best enterprise products in the world if you can get them, and if they’re “free”? Let’s explore this unique corner of the IT world together.

So, who do you call in Iran to get an IBM mainframe or three? DP Iran Co. is one obvious option. Prior to and (briefly) during Iran’s Islamic Revolution, IBM had a presence in Iran. According to the company’s own history, DP Iran is the former IBM Iran, quite simply. But DPI doesn’t only (somehow) scour the world to find, procure, and smuggle IBM mainframes into Iran in violation of the embargo — currently, apparently, including not-so-old z10 models that are, as I write this, compatible with all current IBM mainframe software product versions. No, DPI also provides its customers with some locally developed, customized products and support. For example, DPI sells terminal emulation products that support the local language. DPI also will help setup a z/OS Parallel Sysplex for you, and that’s particularly impressive since Parallel Sysplex is the world’s most advanced, mission-critical clustering technology for enterprise computing. It seems some Iranian users also value continuous business service. We can start to learn more about specific IBM mainframe users in Iran from DPI. For example, DPI shares its customer success story about Tejarat Bank, described as a “COBOL/CICS” customer. Elsewhere I found a reference to Tejarat Bank’s migration from VSAM to DB2 for z/OS, so they’ve gone at least partially relational within the past several years.

Informatics Services Corporation (ISC) also provides IBM mainframe sales, service, and support in Iran. ISC, too, has located “zSeries” servers for several clients in Iran, so most (at least) 64-bit IBM mainframe software would be compatible with the machines they sell. ISC describes how they’ve been able for many years to import mainframes in pieces then reassemble them into functioning machines in Iran. That impressive talent probably helps explain why Iran’s High Council of Informatics awarded ISC “First Grade in Presentation and Maintenance of Mainframes.” I wonder what that diploma or trophy looks like.

Iran Computer Industries (ICI) is yet another local IT company providing IBM mainframe sales, service, and support. Need all the latest (or at least recent) IBM mainframe software? No problem, according to ICI. They can even pirate WebSphere Application Server for z/OS. (Software is generally embargoed, too, so the only two options are piracy or doing without. WebSphere and z/OS products are not unique in that respect.) ICI also posts pretty pictures of the latest IBM mainframe models on their Web site.

Then we come to Rayan Novin Tooka Co., for some reason known as PJSC. PJSC also procures IBM mainframes and supports their users. They’re kind enough to share their client list: Bandar Imam Petrochemical, Kala Naft, Petrochemical Kala, Iran Khodro Industrial Group (a major car, bus, and truck manufacturer), and Iran Esfahan Steel. The first three are related to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). PJSC describes the specific mainframe models some of their clients run. Those particular clients have older 31-bit G5 and G6 models that are compatible with z/OS 1.5 and below. That model information could be 3 years or more out of date, though, so perhaps those clients have found 64-bit machines by now.

This brief tour of the Iranian mainframe sales and service scene barely scratches the surface. You can probably find much more information with just a bit more research. Although I’ve drawn some attention to these IT companies and a few of their clients, I hope the information they’ve posted remains publicly available online. Perhaps some good can come from knowing these details, if not now hopefully in the not-too-distant future.