Brick and mortar IBM commitment to System z

Do you worry about the future of the System z and mainframes in general? I did until I saw an IBM press release in April about opening a new 56,000 sq. ft., $30 million manufacturing facility in Poughkeepsie to produce the next generation of System z mainframes and high-end Power Systems servers. By the time that facility is obsolete and ready to be shuttered, I should be long gone.

With IBM making that kind of investment in bricks and mortar on behalf of the System z, the company clearly expects the z to hang around for many more years. I don’t know what the depreciation schedule is on a new high tech manufacturing facility, but it must be longer than the usual 3-5 years for IT investments, lots longer.

Yet, there has been surprisingly little comment in the press about the announcement. Instead, there continues the stream of mainframe-is-dead pieces. The most recent, reported by Joe Clabby for Pund-IT, recounted Gartner’s advice to abandon the z in favor of x86-based servers. But as Joe pointed out, Gartner had some conflicts of interest, leaving them as anything but an unbiased advisor when it comes to mainframe computing.

The latest generation of Intel and AMD multi-core x86-based processors has generated a flood of articles predicting that the x86 architecture will dominate enterprise computing going forward. Last week at EMC World, EMC CEO Joe Tucci repeatedly declared the x86 architecture the wave of the future and would be the processor EMC would base all its products on now and in the future. The x86 processor was the future not only for EMC but everyone, everywhere.

Tucci obviously hadn’t noticed what Apple is doing. In January Apple brought out its own CPU, from a chip manufacturer it had previously acquired, to power the iPOD and iPAD. Sorry Joe, given the number of those devices Apple is selling there will be a considerable chunk of the world that does sophisticated computing and communications (and video and audio…) without an x86 processor.

The x86 architecture clearly isn’t the only game in town. In addition to Apple’s A4, IBM revved its POWER chip architecture and introduced systems based on the new POWER7 chip. These AIX and Linux machines are putting up impressive benchmarks. Even Sun/Oracle may be bringing out a new SPARC chip. Although the company appears to be somewhat vague about that if it wants to stay in the large enterprise computing game it will have to come up with a new SPARC chip or IBM and HP will continue to pick off its customers and VARs.

And then there is the next generation System z, dubbed the Hybrid z in briefings earlier this year. It apparently will be based on a highly optimized POWER7 multi-core architecture too. The mainframe is not likely to cede any performance to the new x86 processors, whether from Intel or AMD.

As IBM stated in its new factory announcement, “The facility is designed to handle the next generation of systems and [deliver] the capacity and flexibility to manufacture future products. The first products for customers are expected to roll off the assembly line later this year.” Just in time for the hybrid System z.

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