T-Rex takes hold of Workers’ Compensation Board

What was once viewed as an IT dinosaur may owe part of its ongoing revival to an IBM mainframe known, ironically, as T-Rex. And in Canada, that revival has started in the old dinosaur stomping grounds of Alberta.

Earlier this year IBM Corp. took the wraps off of the eServer z990, code-named T-Rex. The mainframe is an upgrade from IBM’s z900 model, and offers twice the number of processors – the z900 has 16 processors. With a feature of up to 9,000 million instructions per second (MIPS), the newest addition to the zSeries family also offers three times the system capacity of the z900.

And last month, the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta (WCB) announced it was the first Canadian company to purchase the z990.

But the decision wasn’t necessarily automatic, according to WCB officials. “We looked at re-platforming some of our applications on a number of different hosts and platforms,” said Murray Mitchell, manager of application with the WCB in Edmonton. The agency also looked at simply adding processors to its existing mainframe, “(but) moving to the z990…was even more cost-effective than (that),” he added.

Another concern was the future of sticking with mainframe itself. “I’ve had differences of opinion with myself on that point,” he said. Even up to 2000, finding the staff to work on the WCB mainframe platform was difficult. But a couple of points helped to convince him.

First was the changing economy, and the effect that has had on his ability to attract and retain mainframe-specific staff. “(Finding) resources for mainframe management isn’t as bad as it was previously,” Mitchell said.

What also made it attractive was the flexible payment scheme that IBM offered the WCB. The organization signed a three-and-a-half year contract under the Workload Licence Charges agreement that will see WCB pay only for the portion of the server that it requires.

Although WCB opted to run IBM’s proprietary OS on the z990, IBM says what’s making the mainframe a viable option for organizations is the trickling up of more mainstream technologies, such as Linux, Java Virtual Machines and relational databases and TCP/IP networking.

The mainframe has evolved along with other systems,” said Mark Renfer, business unit executive for the eServer zSeries at IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont.

Earlier this year, industry observers hailed the release of the z990, including one Wellesley, Mass.-based industry analyst who said growth within the mainframe space is being driven by Linux applications.

“Linux can be partitioned and can run hundreds of thousands of sessions on a single processor of the mainframe,” said Mike Kahn, managing director of The Clipper Group Inc.

Linux is an increasingly important contributor to IBM’s mainframe business. Shipments of the OS on the mainframe grew 45 per cent between 2001 and 2002, and Linux systems accounted for 17 per cent of IBM’s mainframe revenue in 2002, according to Gartner Inc.

Today, more than 200 IBM mainframe customers have at least one Linux application in production on their IBM mainframes, and more than 400 additional companies are evaluating or in the process of implementing production applications on it, the firm says.

Renfer said he expects to sell “several more” z990s within Canada in the near future.

– With files from Allison Taylor