New IBM mainframe renews battle for 'heart of enterprise'

IBM has launched a family of mainframe computers, which it hopes will stymie a decline in sales, and reinvent the role of the host platform in enterprise data centres.

The zEnterprise ‘hybrid’ mainframe is designed to provide more power and energy efficiency than its predecessor, the System z series, running up to 60 per cent faster depending on workloads and underlying operating system. It is described as a hybrid because the box can accommodate x386 servers – but (as yet) only IBM’s products in the class, the POWER7 and System X blade series.

The IT giant claims that it can reduce data centre labour costs by up to 70 per cent by automatically managing processing workloads across different systems from a central point.

IBM billed its new zEnterprise server as its biggest mainframe announcement for two decades, aimed at ruling the data centre by extending its governance and management to outlying servers within a common virtualised environment; but IBM has stopped short – so far – of making the mainframe a true ‘Cloud in a Box’ by embracing Open Systems, and/or by running ‘foreign’ operating systems – “Instead our customers are saying, can’t you make the whole data centre run like System z so that they can manage and provision it more easily,” said Tom Rosamilia, IBM’s general manager for System Z.

The zEnterprise brings the expected boost in performance by stepping up from 4.4GHz to 5.2 GHz processors and doubling main memory capacity to 3Tb, but the more significant advance is the ability to control and manage up to 114 IBM POWER7 and System x Blade systems from the mainframe console. The new mainframe, which cost $1.5bn to develop over the last three years, also includes a Unified Resource Manager, to link the blades within a common control framework. 

The zEnterprise continues to reduce power consumption per unit performance, this time by a claimed 60 per cent, and achieves more impressive gains of up to 10 times on actual workloads involving complex transactions or queries spanning multiple systems now under the control of the Unified Resource Manager. This extra performance gain, however, does not yet extend to heterogeneous environments including systems from other rival vendors such as Dell or HP. However IBM’s Rosamilia claimed that support for other vendors, and also for running Microsoft Windows on the mainframe as well as Linux as at present, would be added given sufficient demand from customers.

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