IBM preps mini-mainframe for launch

The System z upgrade cycle continues


The word on the street is that Big Blue is getting set to launch the so-called Business Class iteration of its System z mainframe, a midrange-class machine to complement last year's System zEnterprise 196 server. The announcement is set for some time in July, most likely in the first week after the 4th of July holiday in the United States.

The timing for the new BC mainframe is about right. The System zEnterprise 196 machines made their debut last July and were a big part of IBM's recovery in server sales for the last quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011. In fact, the zEnterprise 196 machines, which are based on the quad-core z11 processor, generated more than $1bn in revenues for base systems alone in each of those two quarters, and are expected to sell at a pretty healthy clip for the remainder of the year. The BC-class machines are generally less scalable, have slower processors, and lower price tags and are therefore more appealing to midrange shops with z/VSE, z/VM, and z/OS workloads.

The zEnterprise 196 mainframes, also known as the Enterprise Class or EC line, are based on a 5.2GHz, four-core CISC processor designed and fabbed by IBM in its Poughkeepsie, New York, mainframe stomping grounds. The z196, as it is sometimes called, puts six of these four-core z11 processors onto a single system board – what IBM calls a processor book in the System z and high-end Power Systems lines. In the case of the z196, up to four of these books can be configured into a single system image with as many as 80 cores dedicated to running a single workload across up to 3TB of DDR3 main memory. That main memory has data striping, like RAID disk arrays do.

Each one of those z11 cores is rated at around 1,200 MIPS running at 5.2GHz, and a system with all 80 cores activated to run z/OS workloads can deliver an aggregate of 52,000 MIPS. IBM offers five different models of the z196 – the M15, M32, M49, M66, and M80 – with the number designating the maximum number of central processors (CPs in the mainframe lingo) that can be activated from the core pool inside the boxes. As with prior zSeries and System z mainframes, the z196 can also have cores configured as specialty processors for supporting Linux (IFL) or for accelerating Java and XML processing (zAAP) or DB2 databases (zIIP). The cores can also be configured as coupling facilities (CFs) to link multiple machines into a Parallel Sysplex cluster.

The System z10 BC machine came out in October 2008, offered up to five CP engines and then up to 10 IFL Linux engines or 10 sysplex coupling facilities; five engines can be designated as zIIPs or zAAPs as well. The BC machines are popular for customers with modest COBOL applications running on IBM's z/OS operating system – what Big Blue internally calls Classic Mainframe, in deference to Coca-Cola – but are also popular among a minority of customers who like the openness and relative low cost of Linux but like the reliability and security of mainframes – what IBMers call New Mainframe.

While the z10 engines used in the quad-core System z10 EC mainframes ran at 4.4GHz, the chips used in the System z10 BC models announced almost three years ago were geared down to 3.5GHz and one of the cores on each chip was a dud that was isolated. IBM originally supported from 4GB to 120GB of DDR2 main memory on the z10 BC machines, and in June 2009 boosted that to 248GB.

If history is any guide, the System zEnterprise BC machines based on the z11 processors will follow a similar trend, with one or more cores on the die being an electrically isolated dud. If clock speeds scale as they did in the z10 generation, then the zEnterprise BC machine should have cores running at around 4.1GHz, delivering something on the order of 980 MIPS of processing capacity per engine.

If IBM keeps the zEnterprise BC midrange mainframe at five CPs, then a single system image should be able to span up to 3,400 MIPS or so. The zEnterprise 196 big boy has 3TB across 80 cores, or 38.4GB per core, which is a lower ratio already supported by the z10 BC box from three years ago, which sported 24GB per core at launch in late 2008 and 49.6GB per core the following summer. IBM may be tempted to keep the memory capacity on the zEnterprise BC box more or less the same.

Ditto for the core count. It seems unlikely that IBM will increase the number of CP cores in the new BC box because to do so would eat into the low-end of zEnterprise 196 EC sales, and this would be bad because BC machines, MIPS for MIPS, are a lot less expensive than EC machines. The original BC machines from 2006 had either a single core that could be used as a CP, or from 1 to 3 cores or from 1 to 4 cores, depending on the model. The follow-on BC machines – the ones due to be replaced – had 5 CPs.

It will be interesting to see if IBM adds the zBX blade server extensions to the zEnterprise BC models that started shipping last year for the EC machines. With the zBX configuration, IBM is allowing Power and Xeon blade servers to run AIX, Linux, and eventually Windows workloads in a fashion that is tightly coupled to the mainframe and on internal networks that are secure from the outside world.

The last thing is, what will this BC mainframe be called? IBM's marketeers are insane, but there is a logic to what they do if you look closely. The zEnterprise 196 EC is a big mainframe with 96 cores total in the box, but only 80 available for the operating system. So to be consistent, if IBM supports five CP engines in the BC variant, but there are ten total engines, then it should be called the zEnterprise 110 BC. No matter what, these are terrible names. There was nothing wrong at all with System z11, except that some marketer has to muck about with this stuff to justify his or her existence. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • IBM ordered to pay $1.6b to BMC
    Big Blue's 'routine eschewal of rules' justifies large penalty, judge says

    IBM has been ordered to pay Houston-based IT firm BMC $1.6 billion for fraud and contract violations because it moved mutual client AT&T from BMC software to IBM software.

    On Monday, US District Judge Gray Miller issued his final judgment [PDF] in the case, which began five years ago and culminated in a bench trial in March.

    For years, IBM had serviced AT&T's mainframe computers which at least since 2007 have relied on BMC software. IBM and BMC in 2008 entered into a contract governing the business relationship between the two companies. And in 2015, the two IT outfits agreed several amendments including an Outsourcing Attachment (OA) that disallowed IBM from moving mutual clients over to its own software.

    Continue reading
  • IBM ordered to hand over ex-CEO emails plotting cuts in older workers
    Infamous 'Dinobabies' memo comes back to haunt Big Blue again

    Updated In one of the many ongoing age discrimination lawsuits against IBM, Big Blue has been ordered to produce internal emails in which former CEO Ginny Rometty and former SVP of Human Resources Diane Gherson discuss efforts to get rid of older employees.

    IBM as recently as February denied any "systemic age discrimination" ever occurred at the mainframe giant, despite the August 31, 2020 finding by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that "top-down messaging from IBM’s highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room for Early Professional Hires."

    The court's description of these emails between executives further contradicts IBM's assertions and supports claims of age discrimination raised by a 2018 report from ProPublica and Mother Jones, by other sources prior to that, and by numerous lawsuits.

    Continue reading
  • AWS says it will cloudify your mainframe workloads
    Buyer beware, say analysts, technical debt will catch up with you eventually

    AWS is trying to help organizations migrate their mainframe-based workloads to the cloud and potentially transform them into modern cloud-native services.

    The Mainframe Modernization initiative was unveiled at the cloud giant's Re:Invent conference at the end of last year, where CEO Adam Selipsky claimed that "customers are trying to get off their mainframes as fast as they can."

    Whether this is based in reality or not, AWS concedes that such a migration will inevitably involve the customer going through a lengthy and complex process that requires multiple steps to discover, assess, test, and operate the new workload environments.

    Continue reading
  • IBM buys Randori to address multicloud security messes
    Big Blue joins the hot market for infosec investment

    RSA Conference IBM has expanded its extensive cybersecurity portfolio by acquiring Randori – a four-year-old startup that specializes in helping enterprises manage their attack surface by identifying and prioritizing their external-facing on-premises and cloud assets.

    Big Blue announced the Randori buy on the first day of the 2022 RSA Conference on Monday. Its plan is to give the computing behemoth's customers a tool to manage their security posture by looking at their infrastructure from a threat actor's point-of-view – a position IBM hopes will allow users to identify unseen weaknesses.

    IBM intends to integrate Randori's software with its QRadar extended detection and response (XDR) capabilities to provide real-time attack surface insights for tasks including threat hunting and incident response. That approach will reduce the quantity of manual work needed for monitoring new applications and to quickly address emerging threats, according to IBM.

    Continue reading
  • IBM AI boat to commemorate historic US Mayflower voyage finally lands… in Canada
    Nearly two years late and in the wrong country, we welcome our robot overlords

    IBM's self-sailing Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) has finally crossed the Atlantic albeit more than a year and a half later than planned. Still, congratulations to the team.

    That said, MAS missed its target. Instead of arriving in Massachusetts – the US state home to Plymouth Rock where the 17th-century Mayflower landed – the latest in a long list of technical difficulties forced MAS to limp to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. The 2,700-mile (4,400km) journey from Plymouth, UK, came to an end on Sunday.

    The 50ft (15m) trimaran is powered by solar energy, with diesel backup, and said to be able to reach a speed of 10 knots (18.5km/h or 11.5mph) using electric motors. This computer-controlled ship is steered by software that takes data in real time from six cameras and 50 sensors. This application was trained using IBM's PowerAI Vision technology and Power servers, we're told.

    Continue reading
  • Compute responsibly: Yet another IT industry sustainability drive
    From greener datacenters to data transparency and 'conscious code', IBM, Dell, others push for better IT ops

    IBM and Dell are the founding members of a new initiative to promote sustainable development in IT by providing a framework of responsible corporate policies for organizations to follow.

    Responsible Computing is described as a membership consortium for technology organizations that aims to get members to sign up to responsible values in key areas relating to infrastructure, code development, and social impact. The program is also operating under the oversight of the Object Management Group.

    According to Object Management Group CEO Bill Hoffman, also the CEO of Responsible Computing, the new initiative aims to "shift thinking and, ultimately behavior" within the IT industry and therefore "bring about real change", based around a manifesto that lays out six domains the program has identified for responsible computing.

    Continue reading
  • IBM's self-sailing Mayflower suffers another fault in Atlantic crossing bid
    If the idea was to see if a ship could make it without any humans, we think we may have the answer by now

    No, this isn't deja vu. IBM's self-sailing Mayflower ship, tasked with making it across the Atlantic without any humans onboard to help, has suffered another mechanical glitch preventing it from continuing its intended journey.

    Named after the vessel that brought passengers from England to America in the 17th century, the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) was expected to retrace that historical voyage. But its attempts to cross the ocean, led by ProMare – a non-profit organization focused on marine research, with support from IBM – haven't exactly gone smoothly.

    We admire the tenacity and the project's aims but we're not going to pretend this has been perfect.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022