By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. August 24, 2016
Big data technologies and strategies are everywhere you look these days, but there’s a curiously future-leaning focus to many of them. In those instances, vendors and developers are selling the idea that big data is mainly something coming down the pike and that current efforts mainly qualify as preparation for major challenges that are still to come.
There’s something to be said for this approach. After all, the evolution of data storage capacity and performance regularly outstrips other technologies, including semiconductors and microprocessors. That’s fundamental to the enormous data repositories, lakes and oceans envisioned in most big data scenarios. Plus, flash technologies are enabling massively stepped-up performance in traditional and emerging storage and system designs. In other words, enterprise computing in the years to come looks crazy-bigger than ever before.
But focusing on the future alone tends to ignore problems that already exist in many data centers. Big data, after all, isn’t simply an adorable new bunny that IT is pulling out of a hat. It’s a calculated means for organizations to gain greater access to and insights from their data assets, even as they become larger and more complex. Since many organizations are already having trouble managing their existing information resources, what big data solutions exist to help them today?
Syncsort argues that it is already delivering just that kind of assistance. The company’s “Big Iron to Big Data” solutions work across enterprise customers’ information resources and are designed to make critical mainframe data readily available to leading edge big data platforms, like Apache Hadoop, Apache Spark and Splunk. Moreover, Syncsort believes its purchase of Cogito complements and will significantly enhance its already extensive solutions and services portfolio.
That’s a pretty big claim so it’s worth looking at the details and strategy behind the announcement.
Syncsort, the IBM mainframe and enterprise data
Syncsort may not leap readily to mind unless you’re familiar with enterprise-class computing, specifically the applications and business processes running on mainframe platforms like IBM’s z Systems solutions. But mainframe professionals have been well-acquainted and satisfied with the company for nearly five decades.
Founded in New York in 1968 as Whitlow Computer Systems, the company began shipping its “Syncsort” solution for optimized data sorting in 1971. It competed directly with IBM’s free SM-023 sort product, and within a few years captured over half of the North American mainframe market. The company rebranded itself as “Syncsort” in 1981, and established additional offices in the Americas, multiple European countries and Singapore. Today, Syncsort’s solutions are used by enterprises in 85 countries, including 87 of the Fortune 100.
Syncsort has prospered by continuing to look ahead and adapt to the needs of its core mainframe customers. In that way, the company is much like IBM in regards to z Systems, proactively shifting to support new and emerging operating environments, applications, workloads and processes. Syncsort’s MFX offerings for high performance sort meet the traditional requirements of its enterprise customer base. But the company’s offerings span a wide variety of existing and emerging use cases.
For example, its Zen, DL/2 and ZPSaver suite are all designed to ease, speed or simplify key performance, management and security functions on IBM z System mainframes. Newer products include DMX-h which integrates mainframe application data with Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark environments (both on- and off-premises), and Ironstream which streams mainframe machine data to Splunk Enterprise and Splunk Cloud for real time analysis.
Why Syncsort and Cogito?
Not at all surprisingly, Syncsort continues to focus on its fundamental value proposition of increasing process efficiency and lowering mainframe costs for clients. How does Cogito fit into this dynamic?
Cogito has developed two specific database performance suites that will be of interest to many Syncsort clients: EZ-DB2 for IBM DB2 and EZ-DB for CA IDMS (Integrated Database Management System). The former offers an innovative “workload-centric/workload-aware” approach to optimizing dynamic and static SQL performance. The latter is considered one of the leading third party tools for CA IDMS and is essential to the implementation and continuing performance of customer service systems in many large enterprises.
Given the critical roles that IBM and CA database solutions and database-dependent applications play in mainframe environments, this acquisition makes eminent sense for Syncsort and its enterprise customers. But joining up with one of the industry’s best known makers of innovative mainframe-class solutions should also provide significant, long term benefits to Cogito’s staff and clientele. Overall, this looks like a solid, sensible deal that should result in long term benefits for all parties.
The remarkable longevity of IBM’s mainframe platform is dependent on many factors but most important have been the efforts of IBM and third party vendors to continually evolve and adapt mainframe technologies for new use cases and workloads. As a result, mainframe customers keep coming back for more. That, along with the z Systems’ robust enterprise-class compute capabilities and capacity have resulted in over 80% of all existing business information residing on mainframe platforms.
Now that is big data.
But while charting a path from mainframe-based data to future-focused big data efforts may seem obvious, it isn’t always easy. Many of the entrepreneurs leading the big data charge consider mainframes and other enterprise-class systems to be old hat to the point of irrelevance, and few have much in the way of mainframe skills or understanding.
More importantly, enterprises are already facing significant, even serious big data challenges today. Those are the customers Syncsort serves now, just as it has for nearly fifty years. The company’s latest acquisition—Cogito—is designed to strengthen its already strong portfolio of mainframe solutions, one that spans already common tasks and also helps to enable Big Iron to Big Data customer transformations.
Syncsort’s vision isn’t unique. In particular, IBM is following a similar strategy and taking an aggressive position on the fundamental value z Systems platforms offer in big data scenarios and use cases. Similarly, CA and other third parties are working on their own mainframe-driven big data solutions and services. That may make it seem as if Syncsort will face considerable headwinds as it pursues its strategic and tactical efforts.
But I’d argue that though competition in this space is inevitable, the innovation that results from multiple vendors pursuing similar goals actually increases the vitality of the mainframe. As can be seen in the current health of the market for mainframe solutions, that has certainly been the case in the past. Syncsort’s acquisition of Cogito and its efforts to develop valuable new customer solutions and services suggests it continues helping customers make their way from big iron to big data.
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