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IBM Launches Massive New Mainframe Systems

By Andy Patrizio (Send Email)
Posted Jul 22, 2010


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The mainframe supports a major upgrade that reflects a structural change at IBM.

IBM today introduced the latest iteration in its mainframe line, once again showing that declarations that the mainframe is dead are dead wrong. The new zEnterprise server introduces several hardware firsts, but lost in the noise of the hardware is a significant restructuring at Big Blue.

The hardware and software groups at IBM (NYSE: IBM) are merging into a single combined entity under the management of Steven Mills, who had been head of software. IBM said this will allow for greater integration of hardware and software in its products.

That integration is reflected in the new mainframe. The zEnterprise 196 establishes the mainframe as the central management point for enterprise data centers, with other systems directly feeding off the mainframe's configuration.

The zEnterprise server is a powerful system in and of itself. Its CPU is a 5.2 GHz quad-core processor and it holds up to 3TB of memory, double the memory of its predecessor, the z10, and faster than that model's 4.4 GHz processor. It can also provide up to 60 percent more compute power for the same amount of power as its predecessor, IBM claims.

IBM has added the ability to manage Power 7 and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe console through zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, making the mainframe the hub of systems management. Workloads can be spread across all three systems and resources shared and managed as a single, virtualized system, so long as they are IBM systems. The mainframe can manage up to 114 blades with eight cores each.

"This is really the industry's first multi-architecture platform. We're taking the traditional quality services of System z and extending those capabilities to provide better data center integration and data center management," Rod Adkins, senior vice president of the Systems and Technology group at IBM, said during a launch event in New York.

IBM has attempted data-center-wide management before, but not at this level. The software used to manage the systems is called Unified Resource Manager, which integrates multiple platform resources as a single virtualized system and provides unified management for the mainframe. It can manage more than 100,000 virtualized servers across the mainframe, System p and System x.

Gelardi said that the integration is only for current and future System p and System x servers. It will only support Power 7 processors, and the only x86 servers supported are IBM X-5 Architecture servers. Those servers, while using Intel Xeon processors, are highly modified by IBM and include custom silicon for things like expanded memory.

The integration of systems and the ability to manage workloads across systems as one means IT managers can reduce acquisition costs by up to 40 percent and reduce cost of ownership by 55 percent, IBM claims.

The integration covers IBM operating systems -- zOS, zLinux, and AIX -- and Windows Server, but only if it's run in a KVM hypervisor, for now. Gelardi did not rule out supporting Windows Server running on other hypervisors, like Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) own Hyper-V or VMware's (NYSE: VMW) ESXi.

The integration means breaking down technological walls by requiring less switching hardware and interconnects between the IBM hardware, Gelardi said. Apps still have to run on their respective server, but it will be easier for an app running on an x86 blade to get at mainframe data than it has been in the past, he said.

"I look at it as gluing together multiple architectures. The thing I think is most important is it reflects what the client wants to do or is trying to do today, and that's get at the data. So it's not like we created a solution for a problem that doesn't exist," Gelardi said.

The zEnterprise is the latest reinvention of the mainframe by IBM, which has kept big iron relevant for decades despite repeated claims of its demise. The z9 in 2005 was built around security and encryption, which were becoming an increasing concern. The z10, launched in 2008, was focused on performance, going from single-core to quad-core processors.

IBM has not set a date for availability of the zEnterprise.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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