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IBM promises mainframes on tap as SoftLayer lands on London

Unbelievable... Chessington's nowhere near London

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Retro computing fans will be thrilled to hear IBM is working on floating mainframe platforms onto the cloud even as its pours cash into the rollout of its SoftLayer offering which will hit London this week.

SoftLayer, with its existing 13-strong data centre network, was borged by IBM last June, as Big Blue looked to accelerate its own public cloud presence.

So far, SoftLayer's European coverage has been sparse, with a data centre in Amsterdam and a single London point of presence. However the veteran vendor is pouring $1.2bn into puffing out SoftLayer’s cloud around the world, with another 15 data centres slated to break the firm out of its North American heartland.

However, the IBM-owned cloud operator has an arguably nebulous idea of what counts as London - the site opening this month is in Chessington, which while strictly speaking counting as greater London would be considered more a day trip venue by most of the capital’s residents.

SoftLayer sales VP and co-founder Steve Canale said its data centres follow a fairly set pattern: each consists of four pods, housing between 3,500 to 4,000 cores and hitting around 10,000 square feet. They are scaled up pop by pod, which presumably means IBM will be holding its breath to see how quickly it fills the first room. In a statement, Softlayer said the London centre will house more than 15,000 physical servers. Once a centre is full, Softlayer simply builds another.

None of these will be IBM servers by the way. IBM is flogging off its x86 server business to Chinese giant Lenovo, and even if it wasn’t, Softlayer has a long-standing relationship with whitebox x86 server vendor Supermicro.

However, there is still hope for those who'd like to see IBM’s veteran brands scrambling onto the cloud, in the shape of its Power architecture and mainframe technology as well as its Watson AI platform (yes, Watson is a recent technology, but its name is an old part of IBM’s brand portfolio).

Doug Clark, UKI cloud computing leader at IBM, confirmed at a briefing on the Chessington site, “We’re looking at Linux on mainframe as a platform.”

While there might be some nostalgia value in having “mainframe” technology offered via the cloud, opinion might be split on exactly how much value this offers to modern companies who haven't grown up with the big iron.

The president of the Open Data Centre Alliance, Correy Voo, recently advised against trying to “lift” legacy applications onto the cloud, and said the sort of constraints under which legacy systems had been built were alien to the new generation of tech execs.

However, given some of the data centre consolidation programmes being floated by major corporates, it seems possible that at least some would appreciate the sheer transactional heft and robustness of an on-tap mainframe - without the costs of running such a beast in-house. ®

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