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IBM Invests $1 Billion into New z13 Mainframe Platform

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted January 13, 2015

IBM today officially announced the z13 mainframe platform, loaded with silicon and other hardware innovations to accelerate mobile, analytics and security-driven workloads.

The z13 system can support up to 10 TB of memory and as many as 8,000 virtual servers.

"We spent over $1 billion on the platform and have over 500 patents that have been filed around the z13 platform," John Birtles, Director System z Business Development and Technical Enablement at IBM, explained to ServerWatch. "There is a lot of innovation going into this platform."


From a silicon perspective, the z13 has 22 nanometer technology, which is an improvement from the 32 nm technology used in the previous ec12 z13mainframe system. The new silicon provides improved bandwidth and increases the number of instructions that can be delivered and completed in a computing cycle. IBM has also introduced Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT) to the processor.

"Simultaneous Multi-Threading treats the microprocessor in the same way that an operating system that multi-tasks does," Birtles explained. "It takes multiple tasks and interleaves them such that when one task is busy waiting for an action, the other task can be using the processing pipeline."

IBM has also introduced the Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) model for vector processing. The vector processing model offers the promise of improved processing parallelism that can be particularly useful for analytics.

"Vector processing works on all types of data," Birtles said "This facilitates the ability to bring more data to bear during a transaction in the decision making process."

z13 vs. Power

The new z13 system comes as IBM is continuing to innovate its Power Systems, which have also recently been updated with new POWER8 processors. Birtles explained that the System z typically is the best choice for customers that have large I/O requirements.

However, "if you have a workload that is very much CPU bound, generally speaking clients will choose Power," Birtles said. "But there is a lot of space in the middle, and there are some business practices that will drive customer choice."

For example, the Ubuntu Linux operating system is supported on POWER8 but not on System z. In contrast, Oracle doesn't have full support for its products for Linux running on Power, but it does support System z.

Linux on the z13

One of the primary operating systems for the z13 is Linux, which can run in a variety of different modes on the new mainframe. Birtles explains that the z13 comes with LPAR logical partitions and Prism, which is the built-in hypervisor. The z/VM technology runs in a machine-defined partition and then a guest Linux operating system can be run on top.

"Some in our Linux community choose to run just with the available machine partitioning," Birtles said. "Many will choose to run with z/VM, which can provide more granularity in terms of individual virtual machines and more over-commitment of resources in the memory space than you can get from hardware partitioning."

Moving forward, System z is set to provide additional virtualization features for Linux users that will bring it inline with what Power already provides. As an example, Birtles said that the direction is for System z to support KVM virtualization.

"The objective of offering KVM is to offer customers that already have a KVM environment with the ability to move that environment over unchanged to KVM running on z," Birtles said.

Overall, the primary message that IBM is trying to send with the z13 launch is that the mainframe is far from dead and will be a vibrant platform for years to com.

"We celebrated in 2014 the 50th anniversary of the IBM mainframe and this launch shows that we've got a very strong start toward our next 50 years of innovations," Birtles said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at ServerWatch and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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