Connor Krukosky, an 18 year old college student, has installed an IBM z890 mainframe in his parents’ basement in Maryland. He posted some photos of his personal mainframe, and at last report (on IBM-MAIN) he has successfully booted Linux on z and can connect. His next task is to get some disk storage attached and working. You can follow his progress on the IBM-MAIN list.

Connor reports that he paid $237 for his mainframe, a capacity model 320 (approximately 120 PCIs according to IBM’s LSPR table). That means that Connor’s z890 has 3 of its 4 main processor cores configured as CPs, and CPs are technically capable of running any workloads, including Linux. It’s possible the 4th core is configured as some other engine type, though that’s unclear at this point. The z890 was available with anywhere from 8GB to 32GB of main memory, so Connor should have plenty of memory to support his personal mainframe workloads. It’s unclear exactly what I/O adapters he has installed in his particular machine, but the z890 was available with 2Gbps FICON/FCP and 10Gbps Ethernet.

IBM introduced the z890 in 2004 and halted new z890 sales in 2007. The z800 was its predecessor, and the z9BC was its successor. One of the reasons Connor likely got a great price on his used z890 is because z/OS 1.13 is the last release of z/OS compatible with this model. There are still some Linux distributions compatible with the z890, however.

Christopher O’Malley, Compuware’s CEO, cites some recent, extremely interesting economic analysis from Dr. Howard Rubin. Rubin studied various businesses to look at IT productivity: how much value are they getting for their IT spending? And how does that value vary depending on where they spend their IT dollars (and euro, and yen, etc.)? In particular, if they emphasize mainframe-based IT, how much “bang for the buck” do they get versus mainframe avoidance?

The answer is that “mainframe heavy” businesses simply get a lot more bang for the buck.

As examples, when Rubin looked at retailers, he found that the mainframe-based companies averaged $194.09 in total IT spending per SKU (stock keeping unit). In contrast, retailers that relied more heavily on distributed servers spent an average of $252.27 per SKU on IT. Among insurance companies, the mainframe-oriented insurers spent $56 on IT per claim, and the distributed server heavy insurers spent $92 on IT per claim. There’s also some evidence that the value gap is widening, and Rubin offers some interesting hypotheses explaining why that might be happening including “starburst effects” associated primarily with fast growing mobile interactions.

O’Malley argues strongly in favor of the “post-modern mainframe.” I like that term. I would interpret the post-modern mainframe (and modern enterprise architecture) as:

  • the centralized (or re-centralized!) enterprise System of Record;
  • also acting as the enterprise security hub providing common security services;
  • still running well maintained, progressively enhanced and encapsulated, concurrent batch and online business logic of whatever vintage(s) that still has value to the business;
  • with additional, popular run-times and expanded cloud capabilities;
  • with additional, on-platform System of Engagement and System of Interaction capabilities (including especially real-time/every-time analytics);
  • closely paired with cloud-based System of Engagement and System of Interaction capabilities where they make sense.

Technically that’s not hard to do, really. Much of this formula you get if you simply stay reasonably current in your software versions. For example, you get the WebSphere Liberty Profile with the latest CICS Transaction Server releases. O’Malley is optimistic that leading companies are abandoning the “hairball” deployment architectures. There’s some evidence of that.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that “Safe Harbor” provisions as they’ve existed for about 15 years are not adequate to protect Europeans’ data privacy interests. The BBC has posted a fairly extensive story on the ruling, and IBM has an official reaction.

If I understand IBM’s official reaction correctly (and the reactions of other technology companies), there’s great concern about regulatory uncertainties and, in particular, inconsistencies. That’s perfectly understandable and sensible. Nobody wants to deal with 28 or more unique data protection rulesets and legal regimes. According to the BBC’s report, the European Commission seems at least aware of that potential problem, which is encouraging.

In the wake of the ruling, businesses and other organizations must have “model contract clauses” in place (and obey those clauses!) in order to transfer personal data from Europe to the United States (and, I assume, to any other countries outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland). Those model clauses require the parties to take due care in how they use and secure Europeans’ personal data — the “rules of the road” for protecting privacy. For about a decade and a half, between Europe and the U.S. specifically, businesses could rely on a single “master” set of rules called “Safe Harbor,” but no more. Fifteen years ago European regulators feared that commercial entities would abuse personal data, inspiring “Safe Harbor.” Now the ECJ recognizes that governments are potentially or actually infringing individuals’ privacy rights, so the Court ruled that “Safe Harbor” isn’t enough.

So what does all this regulatory turmoil have to do with mainframes? As I’ve written before in various ways, businesses and other organizations handling personal data simply need to become much better stewards and protectors of those data. That was true before the ECJ ruling, and it’s even more true now. Mainframes and their middleware (e.g. DB2 for z/OS) are extraordinarily powerful, effective tools to help protect personal data and only to authorize access strictly according to complex, evolving rulesets. Mainframes uniquely minimize data movement and data duplication since they facilitate complex, concurrent information and application processing across a single instance of data. They are also excellent “cloud outposts” if/when they need to be. A single mainframe, even the smallest zBC12 model, is a whole “data center in a box.” The mainframe uniquely offers strict (and certified) security “zones” to preserve personal data separations within a single footprint. So if you build at least the privacy-protecting “System of Record” parts of your cloud infrastructure on IBM z Systems, you can much more easily and cost-effectively roll with evolving regulatory punches.

That’s not to say people like to have to worry about regulatory turmoil, especially if you already haven’t been adequately protecting personal data. (The IT industry has a lot to answer for in this respect, and so do regulators. There’s much work ahead, though only some of that work is a result of this ruling.) Fortunately there are some powerful tools available, mainframes included. Regulators (and courts) get concerned and act when industry fails, so, first and foremost, let’s not fail. Hopefully everybody can agree that privacy and protection of personal data are really, really important. Consistently important we also hope.