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Experts: OS/390 to remain integral for data centers of the future

IT experts and analysts predict that future data centers are going to host a variety of different operating systems, including Windows and various flavors of Unix. However, they believe that when it comes to running legacy applications, these operating systems will not replace OS/390 and z/OS because of the reliability, flexibility, scalability and interoperability of the two systems.

According to Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst and vice president of system software at International Data Corp., the Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm, "An IT executive will continue to use applications and platforms until they no longer function. The fact that newer technology has emerged may or may not interest them at all. In other words, we expect the environment to largely stay the same for the next five years."

Kusnetzky also noted: "Windows and Linux are expected to take on larger roles but not at the expense of installed [legacy] systems. Windows and Linux are expected to host the new systems, not replace the old ones."

At systems integrator and solutions provider Avnet Hall-Mark, Tony Madden, vice president of the company's IBM business unit, said that from his and IBM's perspective, "there definitely will be a set of customers that will use the z/390 operating systems as their dominant platform."

"But the future data centers will be a combination of new operating systems like Linux, with predominantly legacy systems, because 390 is the most robotic and scalable," said Madden, whose company is based in Tempe, Ariz.

Jim Keohane, who is a site expert, a software developer and consultant, and president of the New York consulting company Multi-Platforms Inc., said that Windows, Linux and many flavors of Unix will all work well with 390 going forward.

Keohane's first choice for which platform will dominate the data center of the future would be "huge z/900 clusters running z/VM, hosting hundreds or more Linux images, plus some z/OS and other images all interconnected via HiperSockets' virtualized network."

Being Internet- and Web-compatible will be key to determining how many flavors of Unix will work with 390, Keohane said.

"There's an ASCII Linux/390, as well as other Linux platforms, so you don't even have the usual [Web] translation issues," Keohane said. "All the platforms can run simultaneously on the same hardware connected over virtualized networks."

Multi-platforms expert and consultant Kenneth Milberg, president and systems consultant at Unix Solutions Inc., North Woodmere, N.Y., predicts there will be a variety of operating systems in these future data centers but that Linux in particular "is going to keep the mainframe around and have an impact on the total cost of ownership (TCO)."

Milberg offers this warning to 390 pros who will be working in these heterogeneous environments: "There is a wealth of information out there for 'Unix newbies,' though information specific to mainframers may be a bit harder to come by."

So what does all of this mean to an IT manager?

Keohane and Milberg both said that IT managers skilled mostly in 390 should not be daunted by the incorporation of other platforms.

Madden, however, has a somewhat philosophical view on what z/390 IT managers should do to prepare for these changes.

"I think this all will be prominently driven by reality," he said. "It's an evolution. Data centers drive the buying decisions. Data managers will have to learn how to combine and consolidate the strength of these different operating systems. Solution providers and systems integrators can also help. A number of outsourcing firms are growing in this area."

Keohane suggested that the applications not worth converting "those that are being entirely replaced by new development sometime soon" can "die on the vine."

"Cordon off the old legacy systems not worth converting," he said. "Wrapper them with Web services or other newfangled access and let them atrophy."

In their place, Keohane suggested using the following:

1. Applications written in C++, Java, SmallTalk or other object-oriented languages, rather than traditional mainframe languages like COBOL or S/390 Assembler.

2. Heavily Internet-based technologies like XML/SOAP, Web services and browser- and applet-accessible technologies.

3. Combinations of applications on z/OS, VM, Linux/390, Windows, Unix and other operating systems that can work together seamlessly in a distributed environment.

For IT pros looking to expand their knowledge in new operating systems, Milberg recommends the book, "Unix for the Mainframer: The Essential Reference for Commands, Conversions, and TCP/IP," by David B. Horvath. In it, he said, are tools and tips for incorporating new operating systems, such as Keohane mentioned, onto the mainframe.

Michelle Graziose Webb is a freelance IT writer based near Boulder, Colo.

MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC: has an extensive section on operating systems at

For more information visit's featured topic z/VM and Linux at

Jim Keohane is's multi-platform integration guru. Sift through a bunch of Q&As in Jim's Ask the Experts category at


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