The next IBM System z—not just a faster CPU

The Internet has been buzzing about the next System z for the past year. IT Knowledge Exchange summed up a lot of it in a Nov. piece

Much of the talk over the past year focused on the upcoming System z11 as if it was just a typical hardware, firmware, and software rev. You know, a faster processor, more cores, more threads, a richer standard configuration, blah, blah, blah. But IBM has been quietly hinting since early last year, Feb 2009, that it will not be the usual upgrade, like going from z9 to z10.

Given what IBM said about the z just last week, Ian Bramley, managing director, Software Strategies, hit it pretty close months ago: The new z will “heavily exploit heterogeneous processors and hybrid processing, blending multiple processing resources for better performance, I/O throughput, and economics, under one programming model on this unified host.” He goes into considerably more detail here.  

This is about what Jose Castano, IBM director of System z architecture and technology pretty much laid it out back in Feb. 2009 when describing the z as a hybrid able to deliver integrated virtualization to a heterogeneous system configuration.

This z hybrid, he suggested, will deliver enhanced function and further simplify, consolidate, and reduce the costs of managing IT infrastructure by integrating, virtualizing, and coherently managing the multiple and varied processing elements of a deployed business service. At this point IBM will begin referring to the z as the System z ensemble. The ensemble apparently is the vehicle to manage disparate resources as a single entity; the System z acting as the single point of control for a dynamic enterprise management fabric. This fabric will manage what is shaping up as an increasingly dynamic enterprise IT infrastructure consisting not only of the System z and its specialty engines but the System p, blade servers… the whole heterogeneous environment.

Castano’s remarks, of course, were bracketed by the usual disclaimers to the effect that his comments are not set in stone. So now, a year later IBM brings together all the industry analysts who cover the z and, again, does not actually announce a new system z.

Instead Karl Freund, VP, System z marketing and strategy, declares IBM’s intention to “deliver the best of all worlds: mainframe, UNIX, x86 and single function processors, integrated in a single system for ultimate flexibility and simplicity to optimize service, risk, and cost across multiple heterogeneous workloads.” All this by way of  “introducing the first-of- a-kind workload optimized technology for the deployment of end-to-end solutions across a System z managed and integrated heterogeneous environment.”

The rumored timeframe for the introduction of the next z is late 3Q or early 4Q so as to not delay z10 buying decisions prematurely. It is not clear, however, that every organization considering, say, upgrading from their z9 to a z10 will jump to this hybrid z. Many of the z-based organizations I speak with are only just starting to seriously deploy Linux on z, and how long has that been available?

And there has been no public hints about pricing so who knows what it will cost. Cheap, however, should not the first word that comes to mind.

If this, indeed, is what the next z will be, IBM is considerably further along the curve than all except their most leading-edge customers. But isn’t this the way it should be?

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