IBM System z Buyer's Guide

Thursday Oct 7th 2010 by Drew Robb

Despite some assertions, mainframe technology is still alive and kicking. Those in the market for one of these high-end boxes will be hard-pressed to avoid IBM's System z. The mainframe family strives to be innovative and cutting edge while remaining true to its legacy.

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Mainframes are supposed to be passe. Yet despite a price tag that can head into the millions, they still represent healthy chunk of the top end of the server marketplace. According to IDC, about they account for 32 percent of the high-end of the pie.

IBM, of course, owns almost all of the mainframe market under its flagship System z brand. Far from being a stagnant area of the market, IBM (NYSE: IBM) invests heavy R&D dollars into this line.

Earlier this year, it released the zEnterprise mainframe server along with a new systems design that allows workloads on mainframe, POWER7 and System x servers to share resources and be managed as a single, virtualized system.

"This new model is the most powerful and energy-efficient mainframe ever," said Greg Lotko, vice president, IBM System z, "It is the most significant systems architecture in the last 20 years."

He's talking about the new zEnterprise 196 (or z196). It contains 96 microprocessors, each running at 5.2 GHz, and it is capable of executing more than 50 billion instructions per second. Software is harnessed to optimize the performance of data-heavy workloads, including up to a 60 percent improvement in data intensive and Java workloads. In addition, 3 terabytes of memory is available.

Up to 112 IBM BladeCenter PS701 Express blades can be integrated into the zEnterprise System through zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX). Additionally, up to eight fully configured zEnterprise systems can be clustered and managed as a single system. This totals 768 new zEnterprise microprocessors and any combination of up to 896 IBM Power or x86 microprocessors that can be managed as a single system.

"Over 100,000 virtualized servers can be managed as a single system in the maximum clustered configuration," said Lotko.

The new system offers 60 percent more capacity than its predecessor, the System z10, and it uses about the same amount of electricity. IBM continues to promote and sell the z10 in a couple of flavors as shown in the table below. However, it is now focusing on the z196 as its primary mainframe offering. For those selecting Linux on System z, a single virtualized server can be created and deployed for less than $1 per day, said Lotko.

"It costs 74 percent less to run comparative Oracle workloads on the zEnterprise 196 compared to x86 systems," he added.

Energy efficiencies were achieved through advances in microprocessor design, 45nm silicon technology, and more efficient power conversion and distribution, as well as advanced sensors and cooling control firmware that monitors and makes adjustments based on environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity levels and air density.

A water cooling option is also available for the z196 that can reduce energy use by as much as 12 percent. Lotko trots out the numbers: In a normal data center environment, water cooling reduces the required system air flow by more than 20 percent, while removing more than 70 percent of the system air heat load. Water cooling on the z196 connects directly to existing chilled water systems.

The z196 can be configured to include up to 80 specialty engines to further reduce costs and increase performance, including the System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) for integrating Java workloads with core business applications, the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) designed to help free-up computing capacity and lower IT costs, and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) to optimize Linux workloads running on the mainframe.

The starting price for the z196 is just under $1 million.

New Design

The new systems design combines IBM's new zEnterprise mainframe server with zBX the IBM zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager -- that enables it to manage workloads running across System z, and select POWER7 and System x servers.

"As a result, customers can integrate the management of zEnterprise System resources as a single system and extend mainframe qualities, such as governance and manageability, to workloads running on select IBM POWER7 and System x blade servers," said Lotko.

zBX supports IBM POWER7 and System x BladeCenter systems as well as blades optimized for specific workloads, such as analytics and managing Web infrastructure.

IBM blade servers inside the zBX integrate with System z and can run tens of thousands of off-the-shelf applications. Coming later this year, IBM will deliver the zBX with support for IBM POWER7 blades running AIX, IBM's UNIX operating system. IBM is also introducing the IBM Smart Analytics Optimizer to accelerate the performance of complex analytic workloads at a lower cost per transaction.

Next year, IBM plans to announce additional general-purpose blades for the IBM zBX, including select IBM System x-based blades running Linux. Additional workload-optimized blades are planned to include IBM DataPower for improving web site and network performance.

Unified Resource Manager

Unified Resource Manager is firmware that controls how the hardware functions and integrates multiple platform resources as a single virtualized system to provide unified management for zEnterprise.

"Unified Resource Manager can identify system bottlenecks or failures among disparate systems," said Lotko. "If a failure occurs on a System x blade server, it can instantaneously move the affected application to another System x blade to keep it running."

IBM System z, At a Glance

Server Name z196 z10 Enterprise Class z10 Business Class
Description A zEnterprise is an integrated hardware platform making it possible to deploy and intelligently manage workloads across mainframe and distributed technologies. New, built-in functions can extend many of IBM's mainframe-like governance and qualities of service even further to specialized application optimizers and select POWER7 and IBM x86 blade servers, allowing simplified operations across all these application environments. System z10 Enterprise Class (z10 EC) provides performance and capacity for growth and large scale consolidation, improved security, resiliency and availability while lowering both risk and cost. It is designed to reduce energy usage and save floor space when consolidating workloads from distributed servers. Specialty engines continue to help users expand the use of the mainframe for a broad set of applications, while helping to lower the cost of ownership. The IBM System z10 Business Class (z10 BC) is designed specifically as a midrange mainframe, with extensive growth options, virtualization and consolidation capabilities, and good price/performance.
Price Just under $1 million Just under $1 million. Just under $100,000

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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