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Mainframe computers shed their unwieldy tag, get back in fashion

The onslaught of personal computers and Web servers had given mainframes the image of clunky, old-fashioned computing giants.

Feb 28, 2008, 03.47 AM IST
For long, mainframe computers were just the thing you read about in school and forgot. The onslaught of personal computers and Web servers had given mainframes the image of clunky, old-fashioned computing giants. Well, the wheel has turned a full circle and mainframe computers are making a comeback of sorts. And India, with its large outsourcing back-end operations to run, may just be the spark plug to get them clogging again.

A growing number of Indian companies are now looking to make their first investment in a mainframe computer, a senior official at IBM, the grand old mainframe champion, said. ���What I have noticed about Indian companies is that they support operations for their clients across the rest of the world and as a result are growing 40-50%,��� Jim Stallings, general manager of IBM���s enterprise systems division, told ET.

Moving beyond the traditional areas of bulk data processing and financial transactions, companies around the world are today using mainframes to reduce complexity, cut costs and improve productivity. Mainframes are large computers that can run multiple operating systems and behave as several virtual machines. The term is typically associated with computers built by IBM and its associates.

The rise of Internet led to a belief that mainframes would die, yielding to networks developed by sewing together hundreds and thousands of personal computers. But the speculation proved wrong as enhanced connectivity boosted centralised computing as in the case of thin client architecture and supported remote computing, as in the case of offshoring.

Mr Stallings was in the country to launch IBM���s latest offering in its z Series mainframes. He said the server-dominated scene had presented its own challenges of cost, complexity and security. Indian companies are now looking for a more responsive and dynamic environment and IBM believes mainframes are increasingly being considered. IBM counts RBI, HDFC, TCS, HCL, Satyam, Wipro, Elcot and NSDL among its clients.

IBM expects to add a couple of dozen companies to its Indian client list by 2010 and expects the names to come from automotive, telecom and retail sector, besides finance, IT and public sectors. Many will be first time mainframe users.
���Clients face rising energy and cooling costs, limited floor space and manpower concerns required to man servers,��� Mr Stallings said.

Most enterprise data centres were built more than seven years ago and are not designed to handle the rising energy and cooling demands of today���s systems and networking equipment. As a result, companies using distributed computing have seen the number of servers and the resultant cost burden go up substantially. Gartner estimates up to 50% of data centres may be already obsolete in terms of power, cooling and space capacity and 70% of the organisations will have to modify their facilities in the next five years.
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