IBM Unveils New zEnterprise Mainframe

IBM is announcing a new mainframe system--known as the zEnterprise--that sets up the big iron as the central management point of enterprise data centers, with other systems directly feeding off the mainframe's attributes. IBM claims the zEnterprise is the fastest mainframe ever.

IBM is announcing a new mainframe system -- known as the zEnterprise -- that sets up the big iron as the central management point of enterprise data centers, with other systems directly feeding off the mainframe's attributes.

IBM continues to innovate in the mainframe space, even though it is pretty much the only game in town. And each new iteration is a big deal for the company, despite the mainframe representing a shrinking portion of the IBM bottom line. The new zEnterprise system delivers more power, performance and energy efficiency than its predecessor. Yet it is also more cost efficient. By enabling enterprises to manage workloads across systems as one, zEnterprise can reduce data center labor costs by up to 70 percent, IBM said.

In a call with analysts discussing IBM's second quarter 2010 earnings, IBM Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge referred to the new mainframe as "a system of systems," meaning that the zEnterprise enables users to manage and run other systems off of it.

IBM will formally announce the new system at events in New York and London on July 22. The zEnterprise's new systems architecture enables workloads on mainframe, Power7 and x86 systems to share resources and be managed as a single, virtualized system.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said the move indicates "We'll be seeing the traditional walls between the IBM hardware platforms will be removed."

Indeed, IBM's goal in designing the zEnterprise was to extend the strengths and capabilities of the mainframe - such as security, fault tolerance, efficiency -- to other systems. Thus, the new architecture brings the strengths of the IBM mainframe to workloads running on IBM x86 and Unix systems -- enabling the data center to be centrally managed, IBM officials said.

In an interview with eWEEK, Tom Rosamilia, general manager of IBM's System z business, said the company's new mainframe design is a "bold move" to fundamentally change how data centers are managed. Indeed, the zEnterprise is the most powerful, scalable mainframe ever - running 40 percent faster than System z10 on various workloads, and up to 60 percent faster on Linux workloads.

Rosamilia said the IBM zEnterprise System was developed over the past three years with direct involvement from a team of IBM's 30 top customers worldwide. This team of clients provided direct input at every stage of the development process. Rosamilia added that zEnterprise's new systems architecture required the most customer input into its development in IBM history. The customers were, in effect, an extension of IBM's R&D team, he said.

"We're extending our reach to other configurations and architectures - including Power Blades and System x blades - so people can run these mixed environments," Rosamilia said.

Moreover, Rosamilia added, "We're not saying move everything to the mainframe. Some things run really well on Intel or Power. This is an acknowledgment that there is a need for fit-for-purpose solutions."

Building the system was no small feat. The new IBM zEnterprise system was developed at a cost of $1.5 billion in R&D. More than 5,000 IBMers worked more than three years totaling more than 31 million hours in a 24-hour development process across 18 IBM labs worldwide, Rosamilia said. And four IBM Fellows and 20 IBM Distinguished Engineers led this process.

The core server powering the zEnterprise System - called zEnterprise 196 (z196) - contains 96 of the world's fastest, most powerful microprocessors running at 5.2Ghz, capable of executing more than 50 billion instructions per second. In addition, the new zEnterprise mainframe features new software--the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension and the IBM zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager. The IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension allows applications running on general purpose IBM Power7 and System x BladeCenter systems as well as systems optimized for specific workloads, such as analytics and managing web infrastructure, to be integrated with, and managed by, the zEnterprise mainframe server, IBM said in a press release.

Moreover, blade servers connected to the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension-which are managed as if they were a mainframe--accelerate System z workloads at a lower cost per transaction and are completely transparent to the application. General purpose blades include Power 7-based blades running AIX, IBM's Unix operating system and IBM System x-based blades running Linux.

The IBM zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager integrates multiple platform resources as a single virtualized system and provides unified management for zEnterprise. It also helps to extend mainframe quality of service attributes, including security and reliability, to workloads running on Power and System x BladeCenter systems. For example, the Unified Resource Manager can identify system bottlenecks or failures among disparate systems. If a failure occurs on an x86 blade, the Unified Resource Manager can instantaneously move the affected application to another server to keep it running. It can also help prioritize compute workloads to better achieve business goals, IBM explained in its zEnterprise press release.

Meanwhile, IBM is also announcing the new IBM Smart Analytics Optimizer, an accelerator for analytic workloads integrated to the new mainframe through the BladeCenter Extension, Rosamilia said. With the hybrid features of the new zEnterprise system and the Smart Analytics Optimizer customers can analyze data to anticipate emerging business trends, capture new opportunities and avoid risks 10 times faster, he said.
IBM also announced new Tivoli systems management software, WebSphere middleware, Rational development tools and Lotus collaboration software for the zEnterprise. Each offering has been optimized for the zEnterprise.

And IBM also is announcing a new z/OS Distributed Data Backup feature for its flagship DS8000 storage system that can help lower data protection and disaster recovery costs by consolidating cross platform disaster recovery environments on to the z196.

"The new IBM zEnterprise System represents a revolutionary change to the platform and the next phase in the evolution of highly efficient, scalable processing opening up the possibility of hosting entire workloads on a single highly integrated system," said Martin Kennedy, managing director of Citibank's Enterprise System Infrastructure, in a statement. "The new zEnterprise also paves the way to enhance the energy dynamics of our data centers. As one of America's -Greenest' banks we plan to take full advantage of the additional capacity and advanced power and cooling capabilities unique to zEnterprise. Citi's unified technology decision making model and its recent efforts to gain efficiencies prepared us to invest in these innovative technologies that benefit our clients."

With its design for efficiency and optimized performance, the zEnterprise is poised to help enterprise customers lower data center costs in all manner of ways.

In a paper discussing the economics of the mainframe, Howard Rubin, CEO and founder of Rubin Worldwide, said:

"Most businesses today rely on an un-engineered mix of computational platforms - mainframe computers; UNIX, Wintel, and Linux Servers; Midrange devices (e.g. AS400). The choice of how much to put on the mainframe or servers just sort of happens, it is not by design. At the same time many organizations have adopted standards and architectures that move them away from mainframe computing in the near and far future under the banner of modernization. However, while mainframe computing (or server based computing) may not be right for all forms of computation - notice I haven't even gotten to supercomputing and megaflop environments - it is essential for organizations to simultaneously consider both the functional characteristics of their computing needs and economic considerations."