Spring seems to make ordinary people silly and ordinarily silly people totally bonkers. For example: the US Federal Reserve Board starts looking for signs of inflation in the economy while businesses are searching for signs of life. Second-string politicians with preposterous ideas that pander to rich backers act as if nobody will notice that campaigning, […]
Spring seems to make ordinary people silly and ordinarily silly people totally bonkers. For example: the US Federal Reserve Board starts looking for signs of inflation in the economy while businesses are searching for signs of life. Second-string politicians with preposterous ideas that pander to rich backers act as if nobody will notice that campaigning, not holding office, is the business where they make their living. Pundits express concern because women’s fashion shows in Milan feature long skirts – taken to be one of the more bearish of economic indicators – as if the prevalence of short skirts during the past two years has done anything to improve business conditions besides encouraging leg-watchers to update their eyeglass prescriptions more frequently. IBM tells customers to keep buying the most expensive commercial computers in the world because wonderful if mainly unspecified things lie ahead. Meanwhile, the information processing executives at these companies are drowning in budget problems and their technical hotshots are screaming for blood and the summary unplugging of every mainframe. All of this is going on as end users form two hostile camps: self-appointed rocket scientists who have been enraptured by Windows and ordinary folk who are already baffled by the text screens that took so long to simplify.
The centre ring in this circus now features the newly consolidated monster data centre at which the lights dim every time DB2 kicks in. Other than this sort of stuff, spring is just another season, good for muddling in the garden and, if you happen to be one of IBM’s top executives, mailing your autobiography to headhunters. Oh, yes. There is one more remarkable thing about this time of year. No matter how nutty things seem, one is inexplicably cheerful. That makes this a good time to introduce change in a business organisation that might otherwise be quite unreceptive and downright surly. The change we would like to suggest is simple: revolution. We think every dedicated manager of a mainframe shop should allocate 5% of the budget to experiments. In particular, we think some of those possibly deranged technical experts should be given the equipment they say will enable jobs to be moved from large to small machines. The first requirement should be the development of a very snazzy demo program that shows how the job targeted for possible movement to a minicomputer – payroll, for instance – will actually work. Once the demo program is running nicely, invite your IBM sales rep and area manager to visit and see what you are up to. Introduce the IBMers to your whizkids and the end users who are participating in the demo program. Ask IBM for a quote on an appropriate host machine – an RS/6000 or AS/400 or 9121 will do – and an analysis of the costs you face running the job on your mainframe. The purpose of the exercise is not to threaten IBM. That would be a silly thing to do, even in springtime. The purpose of the exercise is to encourage your IBM rep to show you how you can justify the system in which you have invested a ton of money, a zillion hours of programming time and your career. Insist on answers that address what you can do right now, not at some unspecified future date. Above all, do not think that you are alone in doing this, no matter how great the approbation you sense coming from that mainframe sales rep who, after all, is just as keen on remaining gainfully employed as you are. You must hold (and might want to express) the belief that the very thing you are doing is going on at companies all over the world.
By Hesh Wiener
Your sales rep might not respond immediately, but you won’t have to wait very long. IBM, right up to the board of directors, is preoccupied if not obsessed with this very issue. The company is trying to figure out what it will be selling, if anything, in 1995 or thereabouts, and it would very much like to be selling the same range of equipment, including mainframes, it offers today. IBM knows it cannot do this unless it makes its large systems very good value. I
f these machines cost more than a collection of Unix boxes that might by some measure offer equivalent computing power, they must provide other benefits that offset the price differential. Familiarity is one of the benefits, but by itself it is unlikely to be sufficient.While you are waiting for IBM to get back to you with the answer, you might consider the possibility, however remote, that IBM will deliver large central systems that please one and all. Assuming this is the case, it is pretty easy to guess that the machines will make today’s mainframes seem very costly. That might not be too good for you if you own the mainframes. It might not even be too good for you if you lease them, unless your lease ends just in time to get the machines IBM will have to offer in 1995 if it happens to like the large systems business. If IBM is half as concerned, aware and capable as its management suggests in reports to shareholders and other such weighty tomes, it is already solving the financial problem that you, if you buy a mainframe tomorrow, will share with it, come 1995. IBM’s solution is to make sure every machine it installs under a lease will pay for itself and then some. This is a nice, normal way to run a leasing company, of course, but it does have some implications for the lessee. The lessee is the company that will see to it that IBM Credit Corp is made whole no matter how much it pays for a mainframe and how little that machine is worth in 1995. Although it sounds like we are suggesting one should avoid an IBM Credit lease, we cannot actually say such a thing if the only alternative is outright purchase. A machine owned by an end user might be a lot less valuable than one owned by IBM Credit in a few years. Chances are, IBM Credit will have guaranteed rentals coming in. An end user owner will not. Third-party leasing companies might provide an answer, one thinks. They are, after all, more flexible. They can help the lessee move from ageing iron to shiny new equipment.
But they will be trapped, too. An independent lessor more than willing to arrange for a sublease, reconfiguration or any other procedure that the customer desires must still hold the lessee to the financial obligation in the original lease. In short, an independent lessor may be more accommodating than IBM Credit but it cannot change the market conditions. The remaining answer don’t get another mainframe – is silly, too. Every company that is at least surviving has a growing information processing workload. Every company that is expanding must cope with an explosion in demand for computing power. The actual answer, which you must have long since guessed, is to budget more realistically. Assume that mainframes will fall in value at the same pace as technology in other computing sectors improves. This will, unfortunately, knock your budget out of kilter. Even if you lease, your total cost for the capacity you install will come to a number that reflects today’s prices, while the cost of doing the same job in three years is likely to be a quarter of today’s figure… if you can migrate to the current equipment of 1995.Perhaps you can find a way to get through the year or two with inexpensive used equipment. We doubt that most companies can. But if you can come up with a plan that somehow reduces the price of progress, do this: spring at it.
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