Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

At I.B.M., a Reboot for an Old Standby ; Powerful Mainframes Gain a Devoted Following in Emerging Economies

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

At I.B.M., a Reboot for an Old Standby ; Powerful Mainframes Gain a Devoted Following in Emerging Economies

Article excerpt

The mainframe is still the digital workhorse for banking and telecommunications networks and are selling briskly in the emerging economies of Asia and Africa.

I.B.M. is introducing on Tuesday a new line of mainframe computers, adding yet another chapter to a remarkable story of technological longevity and business strategy.

The new model, the zEnterprise EC12, has strengthened the traditional mainframe's skill of reliably and securely handling huge volumes of transactions. That is why the mainframe is still the digital workhorse for banking and telecommunications networks -- and why mainframes are selling briskly in the emerging economies of Asia and Africa.

The new models have added capabilities for computing chores that are growing rapidly, like analyzing torrents of data from the Web and corporate databases to predict consumer behavior and business risks. Name a trend in corporate computing -- cloud computing, data center consolidation, flash-memory storage, so-called green computing -- and executives at International Business Machines point to tailored features in its mainframe that deliver the goods.

The death of the mainframe has been predicted many times over the years. But it has prevailed because it has been overhauled time and again. In the early 1990s, the personal computer revolution took off and I.B.M., wedded to its big-iron computers, was in deep trouble. To make the mainframe more competitive, its insides were retooled, using low-cost microprocessors as the computing engine.

Like any threatened species that survives, the mainframe evolved. It has been tweaked to master programming languages, like Java, and software operating systems, like Linux.

"The mainframe is the most flexible technology platform in computing," said Rodney C. Adkins, I.B.M.'s senior vice president for systems and technology.

That flexibility is a byproduct of investment. The new I.B.M. mainframe, according to the company, represents $1 billion in research and development spending over three years.

I.B.M. has also invested beyond its corporate walls. Nearly a decade ago, fearing that its mainframe business would wither if retiring mainframe engineers were not replaced, I.B.M. went out to universities, advocating for mainframe courses and offering support. Today, more than 1,000 schools in 67 countries participate in I.B.M.'s academic initiative for mainframe education.

The sale of mainframe computers accounts for only about 4 percent of I.B.M.'s revenue these days. Yet the mainframe is a vital asset to I.B.M. because of all the business that flows from it. When all the mainframe-related software, services and storage are included, mainframe technology delivers about 25 percent of I.B.M.'s revenue and more than 40 percent of its profit, estimates A.M. Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. …

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