IBM's System z10 Business Class Offers Mainframe Performance

The IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe is a smaller version of the massive, $1 million System z10 mainframe computer that IBM brought to the enterprise market in the first half of 2008. The IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe offers a number of features similar to the full-size mainframe plus the ability to run either the IBM z/OS operating system or Linux. The IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe starts at $100,000, according to Big Blue.

IBM is looking to pack all the power of its full-size mainframe system into a smaller, lower-priced package when its releases the IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe on Oct. 21.

The IBM System z10 Business Class is the lower-cost and smaller version of the full-size, $1 million System z10 mainframe that IBM released in February. The release of the System z10 Business Class is IBM's second attempt at offering a lower-cost mainframe to attract new types of customers to Big Blue's signature computer system. Three year ago, IBM released the z9 Business Class for smaller enterprises and businesses in the emerging markets.

At a starting cost of $100,000, the IBM System z10 Business Class is not designed for small business, but IBM does believe that this type of mainframe system is an attractive offer for those smaller enterprises and midmarket companies looking to consolidate Linux workloads running on multiple x86 systems onto one large machine. At a fraction of the cost of a traditional mainframe, the Business Class systems are also a way for IBM to optimize its offering around price, while trying to attract new customers.

"In general, IBM puts a lot of effort and energy into essentially optimizing around price," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. "This allows IBM to get newer workloads and new customers onto the mainframe without giving away the store. IBM has its traditional base, which is willing to pay more, so that's why you have all of this action around the different types of engines around different types of workloads."

IBM plans to sell the Business Class mainframe through its channel partners, unlike the full-size mainframe, which is sold directly to customers.

The IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe offers many of the same features as a full-fledged mainframe system. However, those features are scaled down to help reduce costs. For example, the Business Class machines support 10 processing cores, compared with the 64 cores that are used in a full-size mainframe. (IBM uses a special proprietary microprocessor with all of its mainframes.)

In addition, the Business Class mainframe can support up to 30 logical partitions, or LPARs, for virtualization. A full-size system supports double the LPARs. Other features remain similar such as storage.

IBM has worked to make its DS8000 disk storage and TS7700 tape storage systems compatible with the Business Class mainframe. A number of third-party tape and disk storage systems also work the mainframe.

For the operating system, the Business Class mainframe can run either the traditional z/OS operating system or what IBM calls z/Linux, or Linux on System z. The Business Class mainframe will also offer 120GB of main system memory, and IBM will boost that to 248GB in June 2009.

The fact that IBM is offering a variation of Linux, along with "specialty engine" processors that allow the mainframe to run SAP or Java workloads, helps the company make the argument that this is a consolidation system and worth an investment instead of continuing to buy industry-standard x86 servers.

David Gelardi, vice president of IBM's STG Worldwide Client Centers, said that the way businesses choose their applications now helps make the mainframe a much more attractive tool for consolidation projects, especially when Linux is added into the equation.

"You increasingly have one or two layers of abstraction between the application and the underlying, physical hardware," said Gelardi.

"The tooling that is used today, the types of Java environments that are used, are much more portable, and therefore you don't have the type of lock-in of building up," Gelardi added. "When people used to buy mainframes, they started with the hardware and then some tools ... and then they built their application on top. In the distributed world, you start the other way around, where you pick your application first. What Linux has done is given that top-down capability to the mainframe world. We have taken those capabilities and brought them down market."

The IBM System z10 Business Class mainframe is available to customers on Oct. 28.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify the date that the System z10 Business Class is available to customers.