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.

Sometimes it’s a great idea to detach from the virtual world and get solidly educated in the physical world. With real, live instructors and face-to-face conversations with peers. (Peers with beers?) As one excellent example, IBM is sponsoring the System z Technical University in Budapest from May 12 through 16, 2014.

Budapest is in Hungary, in case you’re wondering. Bucharest is in Romania. This May’s zUniversity is in Budapest. If you go to Bucharest you won’t have nearly as much fun from May 12 through 16. Although I’ve heard Bucharest is a lovely place, too. After you visit Budapest you can visit Bucharest if you’d like.

Less than 24 hours ago (as I write this), IBM announced an agreement to sell its entire X86-based server business to Lenovo pending regulatory approvals. IBM will receive $2 billion in cash and $0.3 billion in Lenovo stock in the deal.

The deal, first rumored about 9 months ago, makes a great deal of sense for both companies and for customers as well. IBM has recently poured a great deal of investment into its X86 server line, including especially its PureFlex products, to create truly innovative X86 products. So IBM is divesting a technically superior set of products, much like the 2005 sale of IBM’s PC division (and its famous ThinkPad line) to Lenovo.

Lenovo, in turn, has been an excellent steward of IBM’s former PC division including the ThinkPads. Lenovo has steadily gained marketshare despite a tough competitive environment, and I expect that Lenovo will also be an excellent steward of IBM’s X86 servers going forward. Based on that track record it’s a great time to buy IBM X86 servers if you’re in the market. Lenovo is buying IBM’s X86 server unit to grow it, and that only happens if customers come first.

OK, so what does this news mean for zEnterprise mainframes? On the surface, not so much. That said, this news only reinforces long running market trends that have consistently favored the major part of IBM’s server strategy. Fundamentally IBM has a high value enterprise server strategy, one that focuses on intensely workload-optimized and service quality-optimized offerings with the most advanced technologies and capabilities. IBM is the only significant remaining high value enterprise server vendor, which is really quite astonishing. Sun, HP, and several other server vendors before them are, for all intents and purposes, defunct.

One might (briefly) question whether there’s a ongoing market for high-end servers. So far, and for the foreseeable future, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.” IBM is extremely happy with its zEnterprise business performance, and it should be. There are also strong industry trends that continue to favor high service quality, highly differentiated, workload-optimized computing, notably Big Data, analytics (particularly real-time and near real-time), secure clouds, mobile everywhere, and cognitive computing. The limitations of physics in microelectronics also will tend to favor IBM, its leading R&D, and its business models. More simply, there will be a market for the best, and if you’re the only one offering the best, that ought to be a very good business.

It’s important, though, that IBM not get complacent and that IBM always anticipate customer needs. This X86 server unit sale to Lenovo is at least somewhat positive in that respect, I would argue. It means IBM will, if anything, increase its focus on its core competencies, from its leading microprocessors (not someone else’s) all the way up through the complete business solution and the quality of that solution. Which reminds me of another successful technology company that has taken a similar approach in a completely different market segment: Apple.

By the way, I’m happy to be joining the Millennial Mainframer blogging team to share my thoughts and analysis, and to learn more about what you’re thinking and experiencing in the world of mainframe computing. After a brief hiatus and many years editing The Mainframe Blog, I like my new home here where it’s much easier to exchange ideas. If something’s on your mind, be sure to speak up.

Posted in IBM.