IBM boosts performance, energy efficiency of new mainframe

IBM’s z10 mainframe optimized for CPU-intensive jobs, virtualization security

IBM’s next-generation mainframe unveiled Tuesday is 50% faster than its predecessor and can double performance for CPU-intensive jobs, while offering dramatic improvements in energy efficiency, according to Big Blue.

IBM's next-generation mainframe unveiled Tuesday is 50% faster than its predecessor and can double performance for CPU-intensive jobs, while offering dramatic improvements in energy efficiency, according to Big Blue.

"The aspect here is more bang for the buck. It's bigger, faster, cheaper," says Forrester analyst Brad Day.

The System z10 mainframe, successor to the z9, is a 64-processor machine using quad-core technology that supports workloads such as Linux, XML, Java, IBM's WebSphere software, and key service-oriented architecture processes.  IBM is actively collaborating with research and engineering firm Sine Nomine Associates to move Sun's OpenSolaris to IBM's System z mainframe.

IBM's new System z10 mainframe

"A single System z10 is the equivalent of nearly 1,500 distributed servers, with up to an 85% smaller footprint, and 85% lower energy costs," IBM states in a press release. "It can consolidate x86 software licenses at up to a 30-to-1 ratio."

IBM spent $1.5 billion and five years developing the z10, and was bullish on the results, calling it the "most sophisticated piece of information technology ever built for any purpose." IBM's mainframe sales dropped 10% last year, but were still robust enough to give Big Blue more revenue than any other server vendor in the world, according to Gartner. (Compare server products.)

"It's still a relevant platform and IBM has done a pretty good job of keeping it that way," says Gartner analyst Adrian O'Connell.

Last year's dip in mainframe orders can likely be attributed to customers waiting for the new system, Day says.

"IBM took a bath in the space because the customers were on to this announcement. There was a leak," Day says.In addition to faster performance, the z10 boosts capacity by 70% over its predecessor, enabling users to run extra workloads at faster speeds.The z10 has a more balanced design, allowing for a greatly enhanced ability to handle computing-intensive workloads, according to Day. Adoption of Java on the mainframe has taken off in the past two years, which explains IBM's emphasis on supporting Java workloads, he adds.

In addition to satisfying the legacy base, IBM seems intent on marketing the mainframe as an alternative to midframe or mid-range servers, Day says. He expects a  "baby mainframe" to be available within six months at a lower price point. In the past, IBM has sold these stripped-down versions of the mainframe for between $150,000 and $200,000, he says.

The mainframe still has a lot of fans, and for them the continued development of the platform is a must.

"For the mainframe to remain competitive it has to improve its price/performance by at least 20% every year, and this launch is one step in the right direction," says Fredrik Runnquist, head of IT at Swedish bank Swedbank.

The mainframe has long been known for security, so it's no surprise that IBM announced improved security features in the z10. They include authorization management that uses encryption algorithms for multiple layers of security that authenticate the identity of people attempting to access services and resources. Virtualization security also is being highlighted by Big Blue, which says it achieved the U.S. government's highest level of security certification for the z10 -- the Evaluation Assurance Level 5 (EAL5).

"When customers are looking to allocate additional resources in the mainframe and partition them to save money and access capacity on demand, the EAL5 certification states that the virtual partitions that are opened running the specific operating systems are in effect the same as if you were running another server connected to the System z," IBM says.

Also on Tuesday, the company announced Rational software for the mainframe to speed the deployment of applications and make them easier to use. For example, IBM says the software translates COBOL applications into Web services, meaning developers don't have to learn the programming language.

IBM also announced new attached storage offerings for the mainframe, including disk storage with new disaster recovery features, and tape virtualization.

The IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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