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IBM (Main)Frames Security

IBM claims a mainframe is the hottest platform for new storage and security software

Forty-two years after IBM introduced the mainframe computer to the world, the company maintains the platform is still relevant. Today, Big Blue took the wraps off a slew of new software products designed to manage storage and security from its System z mainframe.

The software, which was previewed at the SHARE user conference in Baltimore, includes a version of Tivoli's Federated Identity Manager designed specifically for the System z's z/OS operating system and Tivoli Omegamon XE, a system management tool based on technology from IBM's 2004 acquisition of Candle. (See Management Feeding Frenzy and IBM Holds a Candle.)

The Tivoli Federated Identity Manager runs under z/OS, unlike previous versions of the software, which ran under Linux, Windows, and the AIX operating system. According to Bob Madey, the software offers users a highly secure platform for checking end-user identities.

Omegamon XE, working in conjunction with another new software called Composite Application Manager, scans different operating systems, databases, and devices attached to the System z to check for problems. "They could easily identify if there is insufficient storage capacity that is causing a performance or availability problem," says Madey.

At least one analyst thinks IBM is right, that the robust mainframe is an ideal platform for this type of work, compared to say, a Windows system. "Z/OS is the most reliable and secure platform in the world. Get your security stuff inside the z/OS 'fence' and it is safe," says Phil Payne, principal at Sheffield, England-based Isham Research.

But Payne warns that, despite its advantages, the mainframe is under attack. "The question [for an IT manager] is convincing your CIO what the long-term prospects are for the platform," he warns, adding the mainframe is facing stiff competition from more cost-efficient server clusters built with AMD and Intel chips.

There is also a question mark over the mainframe's status amongst developers. "Modern code is being developed for RISC processors and Intel processors, not mainframes," says Payne. "There are thousands of times more developers working on Intel than the mainframe, so there are many more tools being developed there."

Data center managers’ organization AFCOM has already voiced its fears about the fact that the next-generation of IT managers are often mainframe-averse. The user group has even warned that the impending skills shortage could be as expensive as Y2K. (See Mainframe Skills Shortage Looms.)

IBM and SHARE, in an attempt to resolve this problem, have already announced plans to lure students and young IT professionals over to the mainframe. (See Mainframe Mid-Life Crisis and IBM Creates Community.)

That said, there are examples of organizations that have successfully centralized IT management on mainframes. Boston University, for example, relies on a single IBM z890 mainframe as the central server for all its student, faculty, and alumni data. (See CA Makes Mainframe Security Play.)

Farther south, an IT manager at a university in the southeastern U.S., who asked not to be named, told Byte and Switch that he is getting good levels of performance from his IBM mainframe. "It has been very solid for many decades," he explained.

But the exec added that he is unlikely to consider IBM's new Tivoli offerings. He explained that his university has built its own identity management system using Linux. The organization opted for open source, he adds, purely because it was cheaper than the likes of Tivoli.

Indeed, price could be a deciding factor in the success or failure or IBM's latest offerings. IBM isn't yet saying what it will charge for the new software, which is set to be available as part of the company's service oriented architecture (SOA) strategy before the end of the year. (See IBM Expands SOA , and IBM Unveils Software.)

Although IBM is the main supplier of mainframe systems at the moment, the vendor also faces competition from CA, an age-old rival in this space. (See Mainframe VTL Opens Up, CA Releases New Offerings, and CA Adds Tape Encryption.)

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD)
  • CA Inc. (NYSE: CA)
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • IBM Tivoli
  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)
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