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IBM swings shrink ray from workforce to mainframes

New z-series model fits in 19-inch rack without special cooling

IBM has shrunk its z-series mainframes to fit 19-inch racks, the size used by just about every other server in the world.

The new z14 range includes the ZR1, a single-rack machine said to improve on the smallest Z13 by improving throughput by 10 per cent while doubling memory to eight terabytes. The ten-core CPU hits 5.2Ghz – the machine can have up to three - has enough grunt left over to encrypt data at rest and in flight and to run 330,000 Docker containers.

The big number for Docker underlines IBM’s belief that mainframe resilience is just what developers of cloud-native applications desire. It’s also pitched the new box at AI and blockchain applications, while touting z/OS’ many security features as suitable for applications that chat to others over APIs.

The new machines won’t even need special cooling, so Big Blue thinks the new machines can find a home in cloud data centres, alongside all the other 19-inch kit. There’s even 16U of spare space inside the ZR1’s rack, presumably for storage.

IBM’s designed the box from scratch: there’s nothing at the front of the rack other than fans and not much at the back other than sockets for networking and power cables.

How do these z14 and LinuxONE systems compare at a basic level?

  z14 z14 ZR1 LinuxONE Rockhopper II LinuxONE Emperor II
Product Type z13 successor Entry-level z14 z14 ZR1 Linux system z14 Linux system
Cores to 170, 141,000 MIPS to 30, 8,036 MIPS to 30, 8,036 MIPS to 170, 141,000 MIPS
Memory 32 TB 8 TB 8 TB 32 TB
Encrypted transactions/day 12 billion+ 850 million+ 850 million+ 12 billion+

Big Blue’s LinuxONE Rockhopper II mainframe has also been given the 19-inch treatment.

Shrinking the mainframe will make them easier for more users to consider. Yet if the machines are as advanced and secure and generally wonderful as IBM insists, surely more buyers would already find them compelling? Some already do: analyst firm Gartner last year noted 54.5 per cent growth in mainframe sales across all vendors, while RISC servers slumped. IBM, however, has under five per cent of the entire server market across its POWER and z architectures. And thats after a recent upgrade-inspired buying binge.

x86 remains the runaway leader, but scores far lower sale prices than IBMs big iron. Intel-powered systems are also interchangeable. Mainframe buyers know they're signing up for a whole ecosystem, and for the long haul. ®

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