Mainframes lose favour with rise of super servers

Faced with ever tighter IT budgets, companies running large mainframe computing systems are asking whether they are getting value for money.

According to a poll of 100 UK companies (of which 25 were retail or logistics) conducted by Macro 4, the majority of companies with mainframes believe they cost too much (44 per cent) or that costs are too unpredictable (28 per cent).

These findings ring true at WHSmith. The retailer is in the process of migrating from a large IBM mainframe computer to several smaller, but nonetheless powerful, computers (also from IBM) running UNIX. WHSmith program manager Iain Winskill refers to these as super servers.

'We are typical of retailers by moving from a central beast to a devolved solution using super servers,' said Winskill. 'All (large retailers) had large mainframes and ran everything on them except EPoS.'

If all goes to plan, WHSmith will have moved all of its applications from the mainframe by this time next year. Super servers, Winskill said, work out cheaper because there is a more customer friendly licensing model.

Licensing on mainframes could be unpredictable, he added, with some software vendors renowned for changing how they billed customers.

In defence of the mainframe, Bloor Research Group chief analyst Tony Lock said newer mainframes were not as big, as expensive or as difficult to run as they used to be. He believes it is a reputation that IBM needs to shake.