Big Blue launches next-generation mainframe technology

By Dave Bailey
22 Jul 2010 View Comments
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IBM zEnterprise mainframe system
zEnterprise offers ability to run non-IBM centric x86 operating systems and applications

IBM today announced the zEnterprise System, a mainframe technology system that it argues will give 60 per cent more performance using the same amount of power.

ZEnterprise combines the new z196 mainframe server, the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, and software for managing workloads running on the system called the Unified Resource Manager.

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The product offers customers the ability to bring specific applications normally run on other systems in the datacentre onto IBM's zEnterprise system using the BladeCenter Extension.

Applications would be loaded on IBM Power7 blade servers, or System x blade servers and clipped into the BladeCenter Extension.

But why might firms want to do this? IBM's Software Group Europe CTO Graham Spittle said that all its customers had a mixed economy of systems and that zEnterprise would make it easier for them to run these normally siloed applications together.

"Customers can extend mainframe qualities such as management and compliance using Unified Resource Manager to workloads running on blade servers connected to the main z196 mainframe through the BladeCenter Extension," added Spittle.

The new design effectively allows workloads on the z196, Power7 and System x blade servers to share resources and be provisioned, and allocated automatically, as well as be managed as a single, virtualised system.

Clive Longbottom, principal analyst for Quocirca, said that the move to a system of system is promising and the capability to auto allocate workloads to the mainframe or to Power7 or System x blades should be very good.

But it is not yet clear who the target market is.

Longbottom said: "IBM has to decide if this a private cloud in one system, if it is a new general purpose engine or if it is purely a market response for loyal [mainframe customers] or those losing loyalty.

He added that the thrust of launch was defensive (that is, it is aimed at preventing customers moving off the mainframe), but it is also capable of attacking (and expanding its market segment to non-IBM mainframe customers).

It seems defensive because it aims to prevent customers who are thinking of moving away from mainframe technology from doing so by allowing them to bring other workloads under mainframe management.

Ovum principal analyst Roy Illsley said that the big problem for IBM would be how fast it could make available the System x blades which would allow firms to run x86 operating systems using VMware and other virtualisation technologies.

"The z196, Bladecenter Extension and Power7 blade server technology is good, it's all IBM-centric, but what about non-IBM datacentre deployments?" asked Illsley.

"It's a good start, but the test is how quickly will they add systems that can run other operating systems [like x86], which they will need to do to convince CIOs to buy a z196," warned Illsley.

IBM said those important System x blades will ship next year while the zEnterprise z196 mainframe would ship this quarter.

The Power7-based blade servers managed with the Unified Resource Manager will also ship in the fourth quarter.

"My gut feeling is that not many people will go out and buy a z196, unless they're a mainframe customer already," said Illsley.

"It's more likely that if they are a mainframe customer they will view this as a way of getting more value [from their system] and so won't consider moving into non-mainframe environments," he added.

That move into non-mainframe environments is being championed by IBM competitor HP, with its mainframe alternative programme.

This programme offers customers a way to reduce operating costs for their big iron, and provides a complete migration path onto more modern and open platforms for organisations seeking to leave behind their legacy systems.

Worryingly for IBM, the most recent quarter's sales figures for its System z mainframe revenue showed a 24 per cent drop, and Big Blue will be hoping that the new system stems that revenue gap.

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