Elephants Can Dance

zLinuxIn his book "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?", Lou Gerstner describes how, on his second day in his role as CEO of IBM (1993), his brother reported; "We have allowed the IT industry to endorse the paradigm that the mainframe is expensive, complex, not responsive, and workstation solutions are cheap, simple to operate, and responsive to business needs.


In his book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?“, Lou Gerstner describes how, on his second day in his role  as CEO of IBM (1993), his brother reported; “We have allowed the IT industry to endorse the paradigm that the mainframe is expensive, complex, not responsive, and workstation solutions are cheap, simple to operate, and responsive to business needs. While there is no truth to this paradigm, we have allowed competitors, opinion leaders, and our customers to exaggerate the differences. The result is  a dramatic falloff in S/390(mainframes) sales, increased the credibility of Amdahl and Hitachi alternatives, loss of credibility of CIOs at major corporations, and loss of confidence that IBM has the customer’s best interests in mind in its sales organization”.

Please read this quote again and read it out aloud and slowly. Now think back to when this all happened. I was specifically touched by the part where he says; “loss of credibility of CIO’s at major corporations”. And as you will remember,  many of us who believed that the mainframe was a good platform and “workstations” had not yet proven to be so cost effective and simple were told off, we received the stamp “In the way of progress, do not touch.. ” on our foreheads.

It’s almost 20 years later. IT is more complex and expensive than ever. And when we are asked to save money, and we bring up the subject of running Linux on System z or on blades attached to the Mainframe, very often, we are told that we are “just trying to protect our jobs”. Even though a lot has changed in the past few years, the myth of the “expensive, complex & non-responsive Mainframe,” is still very much alive. Everything that was supposed to replace the mainframe only replaced a small part of the processing and was soon followed up by newer technology. This happened every 5 years or so and even though every single one of them was supposed to replace all “old” technology , all they ever did was add more complexity.  And though most of us will agree that Cloud computing can offer significant business benefits, we also know that it will replace some, but not ALL of the technology in IT infrastructures.

So when our IT Department is faced with budget cuts or other money saving exercises and we suggest  using the mainframe as a way to save costs,  increase efficiency and stability, the old myths come up again. And people often quickly point out that the latest technology will (again) be the only technology that can save the world. To everybody who recognizes this; please do not accept it this time. Let’s demonstrate that an elephant CAN dance.

The argument that only NEW Technology can solve whatever problem we face has been the wrong argument ever since we started with IT.  It’s time to make people understand that they should listen to real arguments instead of 20 year old myths. For example; Linux on System Z has all the right arguments for being one of the solutions which solves some of today’s problems. Everybody who owns a mainframe should use it to reduce complexity, save energy and improve efficiency. Denying the power of the mainframe more than 20 years after it was declared dead by so many is not only not very smart, it´s like saying the earth is flat….

Written by

Marcel den Hartog

Marcel is principal for product marketing EMEA for CA Technologies, mainframe solutions and is a…

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  • James Holland

    This is great. Hooray for Disney’s imagineers!

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  • king lear

    testing comment functionality, please do not publish this

  • http://www.rachelmacik.com Rachel Macik

    Love the personal pic :)

    • CAHighlight

      Thank you!

  • Plutora Inc

    This is a good case study. 2.3 sec’s off a login transaction is big.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/michelehudnall Michele Hudnall

    While the analysts were hyping DevOps, I posted the oversight of not including security as part of that discussion as you are highlighting here. Instead of just talking DevOps, it should be DOS (what’s old is new again :-) – DevOpsSec. As a previous AppDev person, it’s the app, who’s using it, why and where rather than the device and having the service available.

    As you rightly point, out Security should be baked into the solution.

    Nice Post and Timely!


    • CAHighlight

      Thank you for your feedback Michele. Agreed – security cannot be overlooked. Appreciate your input!

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    I love the idea of BYOID! This makes me choose if I am almost anonymous (with my Hotmail Nicname) or official with identity from an official organisation. My Identity Provider will attach identity with right level of LoA according to the need of the Service provider.

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      Thank you for your comment. BYOID has tangible benefits for end users and relying parties but it also has to be weighed in the balance with potential risks and liability concerns. It will be interesting to see how BYOID plays out in the enterprise.