Over the past few years, Linda Sanford, general manager of IBM's S/390 Division, has helped steer IBM's venerable mainframe business away from its road to nowhere and turn it into a growth business. Sanford sat down with an IDG editor-at-large, Ed Scannell, recently to discuss IBM's mainframe business and how it relates to Java, the Internet, and network computersScannel: How do technologies from companies like Netscape and JavaSoft affect your strategy with S/390?
Sanford: Things like Java and Netscape in our view are going to drive a lot of what has and will happen in the S/390 space. It drives a lot of workloads and new kinds of applications into the whole large-scale platform arena.
So there is a natural linkage between these emerging technologies and the S/390.
Scannel: In what way?
Sanford: Take Netscape's browsers in general. The beauty of a browser is the ability to let customers access information on a more real-time basis.
Some of the natural linkage, from an S/390 perspective, is that 70 per cent of the world's corporate information resides on IBM servers and most of that on 390 mainframes. So customers wanting to get started quickly on the Internet can do so now by leveraging the investment they have made in all the applications they have created over the last 30 years.
So there is a natural linkage in my mind between things like browsers, network computers, and the data in the applications that reside on mainframes today.
Scannel: How does Java fit into your tools strategy?
Sanford: Java is clearly a key piece of our strategy. We have the Java [virtual machine] in beta right now and it will be generally available later this year. We have it with several hundred customers with beta code, downloaded already.
Scannel: So will you weave Java into the OS/390?
Sanford: It will probably be integrated in the next year or so. Right now we have updates [to the OS/390] coming out every six months. So sometimes there will be new products or functions that get delivered and miss that next [OS/390] caboose, and we do not want to hold it up, so we will offer it as a separate feature and be integrated into the next product release when it arrives.
Scannel: IBM chairman Lou Gerstner appears to have taken a special interest in network computers. What sorts of things do you discuss with him as part of your mainframe strategy?
Sanford: We do talk about them because they are a perfect match for our world.
We look at many of our existing customers who, depending on the particular business they are running on the system, just don't need a full-function PC. They do not want to deal with the cost of the software and management aspects of it.
But at the same time they want something better than a green screen. So the network computer really allows them to get a very friendly GUI front end for users and still have all of the access to the systems that are running on their servers.
Scannel: Why do you think mainframes gained more attention during the past year?
Sanford: During the past few years we have transformed the platform, making it relevant to the new businesses and decision makers that are out there.
Scannel: Any other reasons?
Sanford: Another reason was the reality of client/server computing compared with what it promised. It came to be a disappointment to our customers.
When they looked at the attractive price tags for that sort of hardware and software and compared them to mainframes, they were intrigued. Client/ server computing also allowed them to more quickly test and pilot some of those projects. But the reality is that businesses don't live with pilots.
The other problem was, after they started deploying them, many customers looked around one day and discovered they had hundreds of servers throughout the enterprise.