IBM zEnterprise mainframe unveiled

Patrick Thibodeau gives the lowdown on the new big-iron

Every new IBM mainframe says something about the times we live in, with IBM's latest mainframe release being no different. The zEnterprise system, as it is now called, has become a cross-platform management system, a sovereign of other systems.

IBM has given its new mainframe the ability to manage Power and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe console. The system, which can have as many as 96 processors, will support up to 114 blades with eight cores.

IBM officials characterise the zEnterprise system as their most significant change to the mainframe platform in at least two decades.

In terms of hardware capability alone, the zEnterprise 196 — that is IBM's name for just the server itself — includes a 5.2-GHz quad processor and up to 3TB of memory. That's double the memory of the preceding system, the z10, which had a 4.4-GHz quad processor.

IBM's mainframe has always been a system with a larger focus that seemingly shifts from release to release.

With the arrival of the z9 in 2005, for instance, the emphasis was on security and encryption, a leading concern post 9/11. The z10 in 2008 , which IBM called a "business supercomputer," moved from a single core to quad processor and was aimed at CPU-intensive applications and server consolidation. The goal there: reduce datacentre footprints and energy needs.

The security and energy requirements remain and, IBM, for instance, says that its latest mainframe has a 60 percent performance gain without using any more power than the z10. But the big concern across vendors now is for management systems that improve the utilisation of all compute resources in a virtualised datacentre.

Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester Research, called the new system "very different from anything that has happened before," and a "real departure".

Day believes that IBM's approach is to focus on consolidation and virtualisation, especially as it sees a lot of its MIPS growth coming from users who are running Linux on the mainframe.

IBM's System z mainframe revenue fell 24 percent in the most recent quarter; sales typically fall before release of a new system.

The latest zEnterprise system is built around an IBM-centric approach that requires IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension and a Unified Resources Manager.

Whether IBM expands the mainframe's dominion to include systems from other vendors remains to be seen. But for now it sees the best approach as focusing on managing an environment that includes z/OS, Linux, AIX on the z196, Power and System X BladeCenter Systems.

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