Big Blue not giving up on Big Iron

IBM is committed to its mainframe business and has released a new generation of mainframe technology

Rumors of Big Iron’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Mainframe computing continues to live on and IBM sees a key role for the technology in its newly announced view of future virtual computing.

The company unveiled its latest new large-scale system — the System z9 — in New York recently and also showcased a new iteration of its Virtualisation Engine software.

In IBM’s vision of the future, the mainframe becomes the core of a virtual computing environment. Computing capability is apportioned to users and business processes wherever they happen to be and whenever such power is needed. The reliability and security that’s been the legacy of mainframes gets extended across a heterogeneous world of disparate systems that characterize today’s computing world.

“The mainframe is not the big closed box,” says Colette Martin, programme director for System z9 strategy and marketing. She explained that mainframe technology is evolving with a mandate to become more open. However, the traditional strengths of mainframe technology provide a key value to a virtualised computing world.

“There are certain things that mainframes have always done well,” Martin says.

That includes workload management and integrated workloads, she says. “The mainframe is so broad in its capabilities - it’s very much a multipurpose system.”

The plan, revealed by IBM’s Systems and Technology group, focuses on the next-generation System z9 and the latest release of Virtualization Engine 2.0 — software that allows companies to build virtualised server and storage systems.

Described as IBM’s most sophisticated and secure computing system ever, System z9 brings high-end multi-processing and rich security, which when coupled with the Virtualisation Engine, extends security concepts such as encryption keys as well as high performance workload management and systems sharing ability across a range of other system platforms. IBM officials made it clear that the mainframe is at the core of its virtual computing world.

“We’ll be focusing on making the mainframe the central hub in this distributed heterogeneous world,” Martin says. “Mainframes will play a key role in managing that environment.”

Erich Clementi, IBM’s general manager of systems, says the System z9 features twice the capacity of the company’s previous generation mainframe system, 80% more internal bandwidth and up to a maximum of 54 CPUs built within the largest system configuration — 60% more than the previous-generation IBM mainframe system (the T-Rex mainframe) was capable of supporting.

“It’s not just big, it’s more secure, has less downtime and… this system is always on,” Clementi said during the unveiling of the System z9. ”This system is going to be the base for our next wave of mainframe.”

A key aspect of the System z9 is its security function “built into all system layers” in the form of PKI built into all OS layers of the mainframe system. Among other things, it provides the means to securely archive data that is typically shared across an enterprise environment. In addition, Clementi said, the System z9 enables faster and safer online transactions as well as more secure internet transmission and “pre-emptive” intrusion detection.

Combined with the Virtualisation Engine 2.0, IBM’s new mainframe becomes the central core that drives a highly distributed and virtual computing environment. The software lets users partition server, storage and networking resources for specific groups and processes across an enterprise. IBM says that by looking to open standards interfaces, it hopes to continually enhance managed interoperability between its own gear and that of other vendor partners participating in future support with Virtualisation Engine 2.0.

Current IBM partners in this space include Cisco, Network Appliance and VMware.

A key aspect of the Virtualisation Engine 2.0 is a function called Resource Discovery, a database-type tool that can be used to map the devices in an enterprise computing environment — both IBM-based and on equipment from other vendors. Using SNMP-based information, an administrator is able to configure a virtual environment to establish policies for uptime, among other things.

Over time, IBM will look to introduce autonomic functionality within the software that will invoke actions based on established parameters. For example, a computing environment could automatically manage a failover situation based on predefined conditions and/or business processes needs for continuance.

System z9 is currently being beta tested. Configurations will include chassis that support up to eight, 18, 28, and 38 processors, respectively. A future chassis that supports up to 54 processors will be available in later this year.

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