IBM zEnterprise winners and losers

As with any major new product introduction, there are winners and losers. This is no different with the IBM zEnterprise, System z196 introduction last week. Here is a report on four ways zEnterprise will change the way organizations think of about mainframes. The winners are obvious: large enterprise data centers running mixed IBM mainframe, POWER, and x86 blade systems. Other winners are those organizations needing to scale big.

For those needing to scale, as noted here last week, the speeds and feeds of the new machine are impressive. The z196 comes for a 5.2GHz superscalar processor, packs up to 96 cores, of which 80 can be configured for client use, and handles up to 3TB of memory, which IBM calls RAIM (Redundant Array of Independent Memory). For improved application and data performance it provides 1.5MB L2 Cache per core, and 24MB L3 Cache per processor chip. That’s twice as much on-chip cache as the System z10.

Other winners include those running credit card transactions. IBM reports that the new machine reduces the cost per transaction by 44% and the cost of an ATM transaction by 67%. Hospitals, airlines, and retailers also stand to experience savings or one sort or another, although IBM is not exactly clear on the specifics of actual savings (20% lower cost per airline passenger—huh, what does that mean exactly?).

The initial losers fall into two likely categories; competitors at the high end of the enterprise server market, namely HP and Sun, and providers of cross-platform management software.

Between the increased performance, expanded capacity, and cross platform hybrid nature of the new mainframe, the z196 will be able to offer both z/OS and Linux on z as well as AIX on POWER7 and Linux on x86 blades. For large organizations with enterprise UNIX environments the z196 may offer some interesting options, especially when you include Linux and x86 blades. And should the x86 blades at some point also run Windows and .NET the possibilities become even more interesting. Still, if it comes down to a straight hardware cost of acquisition issue, zEnterprise is unlikely to win unless the organization already runs a mainframe.

The cross-platform management players face a different challenge. As noted here last week, the new machine includes the System z Hardware Management Console, which will be equipped with what IBM calls the Unified Resource Manager. IBM is touting this as the system of systems, although don’t be surprised if IBM backs off from that phrasing pretty quickly.

An administrator working through the Unified Resource Manager—which more aptly should considered an integrated virtual hardware platform manager—can manage the server, storage, and network resources running on the z196 and the Power, and x86 blade components on the zBX as System z virtual platform resources. Although it is not clear what exactly the administrator can actually do, the very fact of it as a Unified Resource Manager for multiple IBM platforms raises questions about the need for other cross-platform system and even application management tools, starting with Tivoli.

BMC, an IBM partner that was privy to IBM’s pre-announcement briefings for ISVs, insists that the Unified Resource Manager will not woo customers away from BMC’s management tools. “Our customers have diverse environments and want system management that is cross-platform and vendor agnostic. The new machine will not change the need for cross-platform management,” says John McKenny, BMC’s vp of worldwide marketing. Find BMC mainframe management products here. [[ ]]

If cross-platform means a few select IBM platforms only he’s probably right. But until we learn exactly what an administrator can do or not do working through the Unified Resource Manager you can’t be sure.

Later DancingDinosaur pieces will get into the advantages and the drawbacks—yes, there are some—of the z196. We’ll also get into related zEnterprise issues, like Ensembles. Stay tuned.

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