IBM embiggens iron with System zEnterprise EC12 mainframe

Five score 5.5GHz engines wrapped in a funky new chassis

Hot Chips The systems business is largely dominated by x86-based machinery these days, but Big Blue's mainframe unit is hanging in there after five decades and is still a bit of a mint.

You put in $1bn every two years for hardware development, as IBM has done with the new System zEnterprise EC12, and you take out $7bn in ridiculously profitable hardware sales over the next two years, and probably as much revenue from monthly systems software at even higher profit margins over those same two years.

You can laugh all you want about how stodgy mainframes are, but IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is laughing all the way to the bank, as are IBM's shareholders, who benefit from billions of dollars in dividends and share buybacks that are paid in part by the mainframe biz.

Rometty is probably breathing a sigh of relief as well, with the prior z11 mainframe cycle running out of gas as she took the helm in January. She will get to close out her first year running IBM with what will presumably be a big bump in revenues now that the "zNext" or z12 machines (depending on what code-name you want to use) are coming to market earlier than expected.

The word on the street was that IBM would announce the zEnterprise EC12, the high end of the z12 product line, sometime in late September or early October with shipments ramping through the fourth quarter. But, according to sources inside IBM, the chips and systems were ready early and so Big Blue decided to get the machines out the door on the same day that the company is talking up the feeds and speeds of the z12 processor at the Hot Chips conference in Silicon Valley.

IBM told El Reg about the zEnterprise EC12 mainframe ahead of the Hot Chips presentation and did not want to spoil the show by giving out all the gory details of the z12 chip. But Jeff Frey, an IBM Fellow and and the CTO for the System z division who designed the z11 and z12 systems, gave El Reg some of the basic stats of the chip and talked about the new system that is built around it.

The z12 chip is implemented in a 32 nanometer high-K metal gate process and fabbed by IBM itself at its East Fishkill, New York foundry. The z11 chips used a 45 nanometer process, and the shift to 32 nanometers has allowed IBM to get twice the transistor density for logic and on-chip cache memory.

The z12 chip was designed to scale up to 6GHz, which is roughly twice as fast as the clock speed on your average Xeon or Opteron processor, but is coming out at 5.5GHz initially. The z11 had four cores on a single die running at a top speed of 5.2GHz, but the process shrink is allowing IBM to boost the core count by 50 percent to six cores while also cranking up the clocks a bit.

IBM is doing other things in the z12 chip to boost single-threaded application performance as a batch engine, which is critical for customers. This includes boosting the sizes of on-chip caches and putting together a second generation out-of-order execution pipeline, which debuted with the z11 chips.

The L2 instruction and data caches have been boosted to 2MB, up from 1.5MB with the z11 chips, and L3 embedded DRAM cache is now 48MB, double that of the z11. On the outboard L4 cache controller and SMP hub that glues processors on a system board together (IBM calls them books) and multiple books to each other, the L4 cache has also been boosted 384MB, double that of the zEnterprise 196 machine announced two years ago.

The z12 chips also have more relative branch execution units to help speed up the threads, and mainframe compilers can now issue prefetch directives to the engines to help applications do a better job of getting instructions and data lined up to push more work through the z12 chip.

When you add it all up, the single-engine performance of a z12 chip is about 25 per cent higher than on the z11 that preceded it. IBM has not released official MIPS ratings (a throwback to the days when IBM actually counted the millions of instructions per second that a machine could process) for the z12 engines, but given that the top-end core in a z11 processor delivered 1,200 MIPS, that puts the z12 core at around 1,600 MIPS.

IBM's System zEC12 mainframe

IBM's System zEC12 mainframe

"We are hitting the limits of physics in many cases," says Frey, "but what you see here with the zEnterprise EC12 is IBM not giving up on single-thread performance."

IBM has also added more processors to the System z complex and done other tricks to boost the SMP scalability with the zEnterprise EC12 behemoth.

Interestingly, the zEnterprise EC12 is the first IBM system to support transactional memory, which is an overlay atop standard DDR3 main memory that can reduce software locking across multiple execution units.

IBM calls it Transaction Execution Facility, and the idea is to have the processors and the SMP hub controller do "opportunistic locking" of main memory blocks instead of software locking as applications run. You do the transactions fast and then see if you needed to lock after the fact, and most of the time you don't.

If you did hit a locking condition, you go back and redo the work. The upshot is that the overall throughput of the machine can increase even if there is a huge stall every once in a while. We'll try to get more information on this at Hot Chips.

This transactional memory will help boost the performance on multithreaded applications where there can be contention, such as with DB2 databases and Java Virtual machines. Frey says that the combination of higher clocks, bigger caches, and transactional memory can boost multithreaded performance on an zEC12 box by as much as 45 per cent compared to a z196 machine.

Also helping DB2 and Java performance in the zEnterprise EC12 is support for 2GB page frames, which helps DB2 buffer pools and Java heaps take bigger bites of memory and do less swapping. Page frames topped out at 1MB with the prior zEnterprise 196 box.

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 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
  • 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
  • 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 ends funding for employee retirement clubs
    HR boss admits news may be 'disappointing' for the 'significant' population of former staff

    IBM has confirmed to former staff that it will no longer provide grants for the Retired Employee Club, meaning no more subsidized short trips to the Italian Riviera or golf days.

    The clubs are regionally split. In the UK, for example, there are 28 local organizations that have run short trips or national tournaments including corporate games or group runs.

    Joining a club was free for all Big Blue retirees with at least 10 years of service under their belt, regardless of pension age. For Local Clubs, members were asked to pay a small annual subscription.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022