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IBM Breathes New Life Into Mainframe With zEnterprise 196

On September 10, IBM will start shipping the next iteration of the venerable mainframe, the zEnterprise System, powered by the world's fastest multiprocessor, the z196.  Developed at a cost of more than $1.5 billion, the 5.2GHz z196 is a four-core chip that contains 1.4 billion transistors on a 512-square millimeter surface and incorporates Big Blue's embedded DRAM (eDRAM) technology. Containing 96 of the chips, the zEnterprise 196 system will be capable of executing more than 50 billion instructions per second, and delivering up to a 60 percent improvement in data intensive and Java workloads, and 60 percent more capacity than its predecessor, the System z10.

Combined, these technologies open the door to a number of new
applications and customers, says analyst Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics.
"The z196 is the biggest, baddest boy on the block." Built around the processor and a really fast internal backplane, the new z-series can now address a whole new world of business analytics and faster batch processing, says Clabby. "It's a really nice processor built into an excellent system." For existing customers, the zEnterprise System is a continuation of what the company's been doing, says Charles Webb, IBM fellow for System z processor design. "They can run all the same software, all the same applications, just run them faster."

However, the new capabilities open the door to new customers--and new applications by existing customers--who want to run both transactions and analytics on the same platform. he adds. IBM cites a Berg Insight study that says the number of active users of mobile banking and related financial services worldwide is forecast to increase from 55 million in 2009 to 894 million in 2015. Other applications that can benefit from faster mainframes include virtualization and application modernization.

Opening up new markets is critical, states Clabby. "The challenge for the z is to capture more and more applications." He divides the system performance category into three points, or a triangle--parallel, data and serial processing---then puts two smaller triangles within. The smallest triangle is x86 (Intel-based) multi-cores, which do a good job of handling all three axes, but they don't scale much beyond eight processors. The middle triangle is the Power7 (IBM's RISC-based platform), which also handles all three three points and scales significantly better than the x86s. The zEnterprise is the big, external triangle that offers the best performance available, he says.

According to IBM, the technologies and systems incorporated into the new zEnterprise will allow workloads on mainframe. POWER7 and System x servers share resources and are managed as a single, virtualized system. Acting as a centralized resource, the redesigned mainframe can reportedly drive up to 40 percent lower acquisition costs and reduce cost of ownership by 55 percent. The opportunities to grow in new markets, like Linux consolidation and
analytics, are huge, says Clabby. The z196 has the ability to operate as
the world's biggest Linux consolidation box and can run queries that
used to take days in hours. Another opportunity is centralized IT
management "that can be a really big growth area for these guys."