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The mainframe has been a mainstay of enterprise computing for decades, and IBM has dominated the category, but what place does it have in the age of the cloud? Surprisingly, the oldest bit of computing technology continues to live a fruitful life inside some of the largest corporations in the world. In order to keep that going in a more modern context, IBM introduced a scaled down version this week it’s calling “a skinny” mainframe.

What makes it skinny is actually the case it sits in. As IBM describes it, the newest member of the mainframe family is actually designed specifically for cloud deployments. “The new systems feature a 19-inch industry standard, single-frame design allowing for easy placement into cloud data centers and for private cloud environments,” Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM Z wrote in a blog post introducing the new product. 

What IBM is doing here is dangling the carrot of rock-solid security and encryption in a package that is more palatable to today’s data center requirements. To give the new product a bit of a push, the company is eating its own dog food by deploying these new skinny mainframes in their own cloud data centers.

Mauri wrote that this about expanding the market and keeping the mainframe line going for the foreseeable future. “This will bring the power of the IBM Z to an even broader center of clients seeking robust security with pervasive encryption, machine learning, cloud capabilities, and powerful analytics,” he wrote.

To the cloud

In a time when the large cloud companies are dominating, IBM is struggling to find a place in this world. They have made strides in recent years to become a cloud company in their own right, using their pocketbook to buy a number of strategic cloud properties and build an entire cloud portfolio from scratch that includes infrastructure, platform (programming tools, API and so forth), and software.

We’ve certainly covered IBM’s struggles in the cloud in this blog. It was quite a moment in fact when the company finally returned to positive revenue in January after 22 quarters (or 5.5 long years) of posting negative numbers. Transformation is hard and IBM is in the middle of a difficult one. It is showing just how difficult it is for an established company like IBM to do a complete pivot.

The company has done decently in terms of cloud revenue reporting $17 billion for 2017, up 24 percent year over year, and has 8 percent share of the cloud market, more than even Google, according to data from Synergy Research. Yet, it has struggled to turn that into a positive revenue quarter until recently.

The irony here is that the mainframe is the company’s oldest piece of computer technology, one a casual observer might have thought had been tossed on the scrap heap of computing history. But it is still very much alive, and as IBM fights to find its way, it’s keeping that old mainstay relevant in the cloud.

Photo:  Timofeev Vladimir / Shutterstock.

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Ron Miller

Posted by Ron Miller

Ron Miller is a freelance technology reporter and blogger. He is contributing editor at EContent Magazine and enterprise reporter at TechCrunch.

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