Mainframes—Villains or Heroes?

While I was reading the business section of my local newspaper (The Columbus [Ohio] Dispatch) and enjoying my morning coffee, the following article (March 21, 2013) caught my eye: “IT contract expected to save $150M in five years.” The only thing more intriguing than the title of the article was the opening paragraph:

The state of Ohio’s IT mainframe currently takes up four floors and 350,000 square feet of space, and worse, it’s inefficient. So the Department of Administrative Services expects a $267 million contract with IBM will save tax payers millions in return.

I said to myself, “This is getting really interesting,” because IBM rarely “replaces” IBM technology.  IBM goes to great lengths to create equipment that is “upgradeable” on the floor, creating the impression that it never becomes obsolete. A customer finds it much easier to stomach a mere upgrade versus what may be considered a disruptive “replacement.”

Please respond to the next portion of the article:

“When thinking about better operation of state government, we think about areas like these,” said Beth Gianforcaro, a spokeswoman for the information-technology department. “IT tends to be the most expensive of operations.”

In fact, the state spent $830M in fiscal year 2012 to run its mainframe, which includes 5,000 servers that are each running at about 6 to 8 percent capacity.

Gianforcaro said that’s inefficient, and one of the state’s goal is to compile [sic] its 19 e‑mail systems into one that everyone could use.

Everything that I had read up to this point definitely positioned the mainframe as a major villain. Then the storyline went in a different direction:

That’s where IBM is supposed to help: getting the state’s servers to 60 percent capacity and cutting the IT budget by $150 million in five years. Plus the new mainframe is expected to take up one third of the square footage currently used.

The article goes on to cite Kevin Hill, the IBM executive in Ohio that will oversee the project, as saying that IBM will consolidate the state’s system in the next 18 to 24 months. After perusing the Internet, I came upon several other articles that put a different focus on the situation. Interestingly, none of the articles stated that this is an extension of another “five-year modernization project” that appears not to have delivered the anticipated results. I also find it interesting that the article failed to mention the investment being made in the infrastructure (more efficient cooling and electrical). And lastly, there is a big difference between 2700 servers (in the IBM press release linked below) and 5000 servers (in the Dispatch article), regardless of type.

What do you think?