IBM zEnterprise/z196 a work in progress

Right after the initial announcement of the IBM z196., the first step in its remake of the mainframe line into the zEnterprise, I put out a report on how the new machine might change your thinking about mainframes.

By mid September IBM was scheduled to start delivering the initial orders for the z196. The UK retailer reported on here is to be an early recipient. Time to check back with him.

Since the announcement of the new machine there has continued to be considerable discussion about it. You can bet zEnterprise will be the prime topic of a week-long conference, IBM System z Technical University, coming up in Boston Oct. 4-8. Look for me there on Tues., Oct. 5, and Wed., Oct. 6 if you will be attending.

Despite comments by various IBMers about how the zEnterprise is opening up the mainframe don’t interpret that as implying the zEnterprise and z196 are actually open systems. They remain as proprietary as systems can be.

Yes, they will accept x86 blades in the future, probably well into 2011 at the earliest. However, these aren’t just any x86 blades that you might find at Best Buy. These will be proprietary IBM x86 blades that have been thoroughly optimized to work with z196 and with a special blade extension cabinet, the zBX. To achieve the kind of integration and management IBM is talking about through the Unified Resource Manager it can’t be anything but proprietary. Those who think it will bring general x86 Windows-like computing to the mainframe surely will be disappointed.

And then there is the question of what the Unified Resource Manager can do. Everything IBM is saying suggests that it is a virtual platform manager. What exactly it can do with the virtualized platforms is a little sketchy. It is unlikely to do anything with what’s running on those platforms. IBM is not planning to undercut its mainframe management tool business.

OK, you will be able to run Linux and Cognos on Linux Power blades in the zBX or on a Linux IFL on the z itself and, maybe, on an IBM x86 blade running Linux. So, how do you decide what’s the best option in your case? IBM certainly needs to shed more light on how organizations will determine where best to run applications when there are multiple ways to go. Some detail on pricing would certainly help. The usual fit-for-purpose determinations of the past probably won’t apply.

The truth is that the zEnterprise/z196 at this point is a work in progress. We don’t know if IBM’s performance claims hold up because the machines are only just being shipped. It will take months before users get them tuned and have substantive production results to report. And other components aren’t even going to ship until well into 2011. The zEnterprise is clearly a work in progress. The next few months promise to be exciting for mainframe fans. Stay tuned.

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