IBM’s latest earnings report contains some great news: IBM z Systems had yet another strong quarter. I love to see that result, and (in my view) so should everyone in the industry who cares about systems innovation. Mainframes are where the future begins, and the future continues to look bright based on these results.

Please note that one must not give too much weight to this single financial result. The mainframe ecosystem is much larger and more complex than the revenue number that IBM reports for their IBM z System (and LinuxONE) machines suggests. The ecosystem includes IBM and non-IBM operating systems, middleware, tools, applications, services (including education and training), and financing, as examples. Also, the IBM z Systems revenue number is cyclical. A single quarter does not make a trend, much less an arc of history.

As background, IBM started shipping the IBM z13 model in March, 2015 (1Q2015) and the IBM z13s model in March, 2016 (1Q2016). Their LinuxONE Emperor and Rockhopper cousins started shipping in the same quarters, with the Emperor maybe one month earlier. The 4Q2016 revenue number is compared to the year ago quarter, to 4Q2015. It should have been a relatively “tough compare.” Yet IBM reported a +4% z System revenue increase. Outstanding.

IBM’s CFO provided a bit of “color” to explain that result: margins were up, and “new workloads” figured prominently in the win column. Margin improvement is predictable to some degree. When IBM starts shipping a new model, its assembly plants ship lots of physical machines with processors and other components. Physical goods always have real costs. Later on, the emphasis shifts to machine upgrades that involve shipping fewer physical components. In many cases mainframe customers at least tentatively committed to those upgrades back when they purchased their original machines (new or as hardware model upgrades), but IBM cannot book upgrade revenue until an upgrade is in place. Thus it’s reasonable to expect cyclical variation in profit margins. The 4Q2016 margin contribution was at least potent enough that it lifted the whole IBM Systems division’s profitability. (IBM Power Servers and Storage had a tough revenue quarter, unfortunately. Probably for cyclical reasons, though.)

“New workloads” is even better news. Although variable and cyclical, it’s reasonable to expect that mainframe customers’ existing applications and databases will grow at some pace along with digitization of the global economy. As a notable example, when the world is inexorably moving from paper and coin cash transactions to plastic and smartphone electronic transactions, the world’s electronic payment systems (heavily mainframe-based for entirely sensible reasons) will rise to meet the demand. That’s terrific, and what’s even more terrific is the addition of new applications and new information systems to those machines, and brand new customers joining the mainframe community. “New workloads” is shorthand for this phenomenon, the “horizontal” growth. Examples include blockchain technologies. IBM is betting heavily on blockchain, and in 2016 IBM introduced its High Security Business Network for Blockchain, publicly available through the IBM Bluemix cloud and run on IBM LinuxONE Emperor servers. LinuxONE and z System customers can also run blockchain technologies on their own machines, and many are. IBM is a member of the Linux Foundation promoting Hyperledger blockchain technologies, and the Hyperledger code is available as open source to everyone, including to mainframe customers. There is widespread industry agreement that blockchain technology solutions will not succeed unless they have the best security controls. The cryptographic math is well proven, but protecting the “rear flanks” of those blockchain solutions is the key (pun intended). IBM LinuxONE and z System servers handle that defensive part of the equation brilliantly, and that’s one part of the “new workload” story.

So, to sum up, mainframes keep expanding and growing, multidimensionally. Bravo.

Turning to IBM’s overall results for a moment, IBM is clearly a profitable, going concern. A couple decades ago there were some doubts about that, but not since, and not now. However, overall revenue was down 1%. IBM is still correcting course to change that minus sign to a plus sign. IBM’s investments in cognitive solutions, security, cloud (especially in hybrid clouds), and other areas are looking good so far. They’re all highly mainframe relevant, by the way.

Welcome to 2017.

Posted in IBM.

FREE! We all love that word, especially when it’s true. It’s true: there’s an amazing amount of wonderful, free stuff for mainframes that will probably surprise you. OK, admittedly nothing in life is truly free. You have to spend a little bit of effort implementing and exploiting this wonderful free stuff, and presumably your time isn’t always free. Lawyers like to say “no additional charge.” I’m not a lawyer.

As background, take a look at the 2013 Edition of this list. Most of the 2013 entries are still valid, but here are the updates and changes (only) for this 2016 Update….

Free Mainframes – Infrastructure as a Service

  • Would you like up to 120 days of free trial access to a real IBM LinuxONE mainframe with your choice of Linux distributions? Try the LinuxONE Community Cloud.
  • IBM offers the Enterprise DevOps for z Systems cloud-based trial, powered by the IBM Rational Development and Test Environment for z Systems. You can test drive IBM’s excellent development tools for z/OS on z/OS for up to 15 days at no charge. Yes, with access to real z/OS, CICS Transaction Server, DB2, IMS, etc.
  • IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest site moved here.
  • Connor Krukosky installed a real IBM z890 mainframe in his parents’ basement for a grand total cash outlay of about $350. OK, that’s only almost free, but if he could do it, why not you?

Free Mainframes – Platform as a Service

  • IBM offers a zero installation trial of its Automatic Binary Optimizer for z/OS product at Simply upload a COBOL module compiled with Enterprise COBOL Version 3 or Version 4, and IBM’s cloud-based ABO returns an ABO-optimized module, ready for testing and performance evaluation. If you like the results, you can order the 90-day ABO Trial Edition (IBM Program Number 5697-TR1), also at no additional charge. IBM offers some other no charge trial licenses, for example Enterprise COBOL Version 6 (5655-TY6).
  • Are you developing an amazing application that takes advantage of Blockchain shared ledger technologies? Try IBM’s unique High Security Blockchain environment, running on real IBM LinuxONE servers. (Because if you don’t have strong security to protect access to your Blockchain, what’s the point?) At this writing the trial link is here, and free access is available to practically anybody with an interesting application. But if that link doesn’t work, start with this one instead.

Free Mainframe Operating Systems

  • Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux Server for LinuxONE and z Systems is available for download at no charge. If you want to run Ubuntu Server in production you’ll want to contact Canonical to sign up for a support agreement. (It’s the same story with other Linux distributors listed below.)
  • The MUSIC/SP operating system is available for download. In principle you could transfer MUSIC/SP to an IBM mainframe and run it there (probably under z/VM), but take a look at the license terms first to make sure you have (or, if necessary, obtain) permission.
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for z Systems is available here, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux for z Systems is available here.
  • Sine Nomine Associates offers ClefOS for z Systems, a Linux distribution that tracks CentOS.

IBM Freebies for IBM Operating Systems

  • Don’t forget to look within your licensed software products for free gems. For example, z/OS Version 2.2 (and higher, presumably) includes the IBM Knowledge Center for z/OS at no additional charge. The Knowledge Center for z/OS hosts documentation directly on/from your mainframe. You can access that documentation using any standard Web browser, even from a mobile device or tablet. You don’t need any browser plug-ins or emulation software. You can customize and log user access to documentation if you wish, and you won’t need to worry about accessing Internet-based documentation or maintaining current documentation on PCs. That helps simplify disaster recovery procedures. The PC-based IBM Softcopy Librarian, also free, is the tool that uploads and maintains documentation in the Knowledge Center.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to tap into a RESTful/JSON interface from any z/OS-hosted application you write (or enhance), even from a batch application? To send a text message through Twilio, check the shipment status of a package, or lookup geospatial coordinates using a Google Maps API, as examples? Now you can, and it’s free. The IBM Client Web Enablement Toolkit for z/OS is included with z/OS 2.2 and available for z/OS 2.1 at no additional charge. The IBM Client Web Enablement Toolkit provides both JSON parsing and HTTP/HTTPS protocol support (HTTPS recommended).
  • Other examples of free components within licensed software products include z/OS Connect (provided with the latest releases of CICS Transaction Server for z/OS and IMS Transaction Manager, as examples) and WebSphere Liberty Profile (in CICS Transaction Server and WebSphere Application Server for z/OS).
  • IBM’s CICS SupportPacs provide a wide range of useful add-ons to CICS Transaction Server. One of my favorites is SupportPac CA1Y, an add-on that provides interfaces to send and even receive e-mails directly within CICS Transaction Server.
  • Similarly, IBM offers several handy WebSphere MQ SupportPacs.

Other Freebies (Mostly for z/OS)

I’m sure I missed many mainframe freebies that are not listed in either the 2013 Edition or this 2016 Update. Please post your favorites in the comments.