IBM Offers Mainframe Makeover

IBM is looking to make more of the mainframe, by adding more performance, reliability, and security and selling the z9 system as a collaborative computing hub that is accessible to more users, including those on Intel and RISC platforms.

IBM said its three-year, US$1.2 billion development effort had resulted in “one of the most open, reliable and secure computing systems every built for business.” Calling the z9 a new generation of mainframe, Big Blue indicated the new systems would serve as a central point of control for managing security and resources across the network.

IBM distinguished engineer and chief architect of zSeries software Jim Porell told TechNewsWorld IBM was “trying to change the economics for execution of applications,” explaining the z9 machines are not intended only for current mainframe users.

“The difference is, now we’re talking about how do we extend this platform to the Intel/RISC environment,” Porell said. “The mainframe doesn’t work without PCs, so it’s always in a collaborative position. We’re trying to start breaking down the barriers and move from these stove pipes of IT to an open, integrated [solution].”

Optimizing Inside Out

Despite a traditionally limited market and the movement away from mainframes to distributed, clustered or other IT alternatives, IBM said its latest mainframe takes the 41-year heritage of such systems and pushes them forward with advanced encryption and other security, scalability and reliability enhancements.

Big Blue said its new System z9 was designed to double performance from the preceding zSeries z990 mainframe; enable safe transport of encrypted data to partners, suppliers or remote sites; run five operating systems including Linux and a new z/OS version 1.7 capable of supporting Java; and process as many as 6,000 secure online transactions per second — three times as many as before.

“The System z9 delivers virtualization and collaborative capabilities on a level never before seen in the computer industry,” said a statement from IBM senior vice president and group executive Bill Zeitler. “This is the beginning of a new era — in which businesses can gain control of information technology by managing it from the inside out.”

Mainframe Movement

IBM’s Porell said instead of brining data to applications, which can introduce more complexity and danger of compromise, the idea behind the z9 is basically to take the applications to the data, thereby simplifying and satisfying corporate and compliance needs.

He added by building encryption and security into the process, the z9 can make moving data more economical, using the analogy of an automobile and its highway and city fuel efficiency.

“It’s the same code, it’s just different execution,” he said.

Porell also stressed the open, integrated approach that allowed different platforms, operating systems and applications to work together efficiently.

“It’s a new deployment model,” he said. “It’s not the mainframe versus Unix, or the mainframe versus Windows or Linux. It’s Windows, Linux, and Unix working with the mainframe together to solve a problem.”

Not For Everyone

Gartner research vice president Martin Reynolds said while the new z9s may appeal to current mainframe users — financial services and similar companies — it is a limited market.

“Mainframes are a special breed of computer,” Reynolds told TechNewsWorld. “They’re more scalable, have high integrity and don’t make mistakes, which is something other servers don’t have. They’re very secure, and they come from what is now a 40 to 50-year heritage.”

Crediting mainframes for handling large corporations’ most valued data, such as accounting, Reynolds indicated the market has been good for IBM and the z9 will be a welcome upgrade to current mainframe users.

“It’s not a growing market, as companies are moving to aggregated, volume server environments,” he said. “It is solid and profitable for IBM. It’s not for everybody, but it’s sure a good value for those customers already running mainframes.”

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