The Mainframe Persists for Database Workloads
Published: April 11, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The analysts at Gartner just released a spiffy new report that details the ins and out of the database market, and a number of things are surprising about the report--surprising if you do not understand the mainframe market, that is.
The report, called Study on DBMS Identifies Spending and Deployment Trends, was based on a survey performed by Gartner in late 2005 with over 1,800 organizations worldwide, including a mix of companies and industry sizes that mirror the global economy. The questionnaire that respondents filled out asked them about their current and future spending on databases and what products they had already deployed, which ones they were planning on deploying, which platforms they put the databases on, and which ones they planned to deploy new databases on.
First and foremost, the report put together by analysts Colleen Graham and Donald Feinberg indicates that mainframes still have a lot of flat-file database management systems, and that will continue for years to come, and when mainframers move off these databases, they tend to move to IBM's DB2 variant for the z/OS operating system. The persistence of IMS databases and the VSAM files that have been behind CICS and COBOL applications for about as long as I have been alive (and I am not all that young) is amazing, especially considering that wave after wave of new-fangled server and database technology has tried to assault the mainframe database market. To be fair, Unix and Windows have grown to dominate the server market, and they are widely chosen to support database workloads, but when you have big wonking batch jobs to run, it is hard to beat a highly tuned mainframe that has been tinkered with for three or four decades.
According to the survey, about 15 percent of the 652 companies that answered the specific database platform questions said they had a relational database deployed on their z/OS platforms, and presumably most of these sites (but probably not all) had IBM's DB2 database running on these boxes. The IBM mainframe server business accounts for about $5 billion a year in sales out of a market that is roughly $50 billion, giving the mainframe about a 10 percent share of the server pie. (That's lots of revenue, but not so many footprints, of course.) But 15 percent of the shops polled said they had mainframes running relational databases, and what is even more interesting is that another 14 percent of those polled said they would be adding a database running on a z/OS platform in the next 12 months. Another 71 percent of those polled said they did not have z/OS systems supporting relational database management systems.
The Gartner analysts believe this increase in deployments of relational databases on the z/OS platform is due to the movement of older database technologies to relational databases such as DB2, Software AG's Adabas platform, and even Oracle 9i and 10g. "This trend will continue during the next five years and will accelerate as more of the older applications on pre-relational technology reach the end of their useful lives." We'll see. Mainframe applications persist. That's what they do.
The second interesting thing is that companies are moving database workloads on to the mainframe, not just off of it. While Gartner did not try to quantify the number of footprints lost and gained by each platform or try to assess the number of databases running on each platform, the platform shifts are interesting. Not every company is moving all of its database platforms, of course, but at any given time, database platforms do seem to be in flux. According to the survey, 56.5 percent of those companies polled by Gartner said they would be moving some of their databases to Linux, with 20 percent saying they would move some to Microsoft's Windows and another 24.7 percent saying they would move some databases to one or another version of Unix. (Solaris, AIX, and HP-UX are the three commercial-grade Unixes that still matter, and Gartner said that of this, 20 percent said explicitly that they were moving from Windows to Unix.) The surprise, even if you understand the mainframe market, is that some 28.2 percent of companies polled by customers said they would be transitioning databases on to the z/OS platform--and a "large percentage" of these customers are moving from Windows to z/OS.
"This reflects the robust reputation of the mainframe hardware, and the large installed base of mainframes," the Gartner report read. It is hard to call an installed base of maybe 10,000 to 20,000 footprints that generates $5 billion a year in server sales large, but you can call it expensive. But that is another story. "Many organizations view the mainframe as a 'sunk cost' and are looking for areas in which to leverage past investments," Gartner continued. "DBMS is one area in which organizations can leverage the power and throughput of the platform through consolidation of systems and head count."
The remaining 18.8 percent said they would be moving databases to other platforms, which presumably includes IBM's iSeries-OS/400 platform (now the System i and i5/OS) and Hewlett-Packard's OpenVMS.
Another interesting factoid: Only 7 percent of respondents said they would be moving some database workloads off the mainframe. Gartner added that of those Linux platforms supporting new databases in 2006, some will be Linux instances running on a zSeries or System z mainframe. The analysts said customers are telling them they are moving Oracle databases from Unix to Linux on the mainframe rather than using Oracle or DB2 on the mainframe. So even if z/OS doesn't always win, Linux is helping the System z win.
It sure sounds like a net gain for the mainframe in 2006, at least when it comes to databases and at least according to plans. We'll see how reality turns out a year from now.