Virtualization Pro

May 19 2008   7:36PM GMT

VMware versus the mainframe

Adam Trujillo Profile: Atrujillo

Bogomil Balkansky, Senior Product Marketing Manager at VMware, gave the keynote address at the VMware virtualization forum a couple of weeks ago in New York City. His presentation focused on how virtualization must evolve into a new computing platform now that it is considered a mainstream technology. As a result of the centralized management capabilities that VMware affords, data centers can build entire automated, virtual architectures that outperform traditional data center infrastructures.

The most striking thing about his presentation to me, however, was his slide referencing the Redmond Magazine 2008 Editor’s Choice award. Redmond gave top honors to VMware ESX for most reliable platform. Taking second was the IBM mainframe. In fact, Redmond said that “the least stable part of ESX is usually the administrator. The code is virtually bomb-proof.”

I shared this slide with my friend and colleague Mark Fontecchio who covers the mainframe, among other things, on He shared this information on the Server Specs blog and here is what he had to say about the award:

Please keep in mind that this is a magazine focused on the Microsoft IT community, not the IT community as a whole. So for the mainframe, which doesn’t run Windows (yet), to even make it on this list is something. I’m pretty sure the mainframe was the only non-Microsoft related product that placed in any category.

That’s fair. But where it gets interesting is in the user comments. One user had this to say:

Our shop has had more crashes and outages with VMware than ever on the mainframes. We’ve been running multiple mainframe LPARs for decades and have NEVER had an outage due to a failure of PR/SM. By the way, we’ve never experienced an operating system crash or hardware failure either.

He goes on to discuss how “toy” systems continually have hardware and OS failures, and how their repair techs practically work at his facility.

Another reader commented that he has “not seen a VMware server stay stable & secure for more then a week. IBM VM can do this without breaking a sweat & run 100 times more servers than any WINTEL machine.” To this, Balkansky would respond with one of his slides showing 1000 days of uptime for one VMware VM.

So, who has the last laugh? IBM recently reported strong sales of their System z mainframe line, largely due to the recent enterprise class z10. But VMware also reported strong sales in the first quarter of 2008. The truth is that there really isn’t a showdown between VMware and the mainframe . . . yet.

For the time being, the rift is about hardware. Mainframes are more powerful and more reliable than x86 boxes; that’s just the truth of the matter. But in terms of software environment, we may have an interesting battle brewing.

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