IBM zEnterprise 196 deliveries begin

Although IBM has implied it has more than a handful of zEnterprise 196 shops, it has been been quite coy about releasing the names of those using the new System z. I managed to track one down in the UK, a leading online, JD Williams, part of the N. Brown Group. DancingDinosaur introduced the early adopter a few weeks ago. The company expected the zEnterprise to have been delivered by now, but delivery has been delayed a week or so.

Meanwhile, last week IBM finally announced one of the initial deliveries of the zEnterprise 196.  The recipient is Swiss Re,  described as one of the world’s largest re-insurers. It should be no surprise that an early zEnterprise buyer went to a giant financial services firm. Already a key mainframe segment, the financial services world should scoop up a lot of the early Enterprise shipments.

In addition to financial services, IBM reported that retailers like JD Williams and manufacturers from  the United States, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and elsewhere had ordered the new mainframe.

As IBM points out, the mainframe has long been a computing workhorse for large banks, insurance companies, governments and others with a need for high levels of reliability and security and high volume transaction processing. Of course, the zEnterprise 196 is not just the next mainframe upgrade. This time around it includes radical (for IBM) new technology that enables it to manage workloads running across System z and both select POWER7 and System x servers. The operative word here is select; not every IBM POWER7 and System x machine will play with the zEnterprise. Its cross-platform range, even among IBM platforms, is limited.

Swiss Re took delivery of two new zEnterprise 196 machines with the intention to use them to increase flexibility and transparency in its accounting systems and to achieve higher data volume processing through a more detailed calculation of the pricing allocations. According to IBM, each new zEnterprise 196 is fully configured with 96 processors, including specialty processors for running Linux as well as processors for Java and data-specific workloads. The system also includes the maximum 3TB of memory.

The company, founded in Zurich 147 years ago, operates in more than 20 countries. Swiss Re describes itself as one of the world’s largest and most diversified re-insurers, providing clients with financially sound risk transfer solutions.

The faster speeds and feeds of the zEnterprise 196 and the corresponding increased price/performance alone will prove irresistible to many of the traditional mainframe users. However, it appears the new cross-platform capabilities of the machine attracted Swiss Re early on. According to published statements by Swiss Re CIO Markus Schmid, the zEnterprise’s ability to integrate and manage workloads running on multiple servers as a single system clinched the deal.

The ability of the zEnterprise 196 to manage other IBM POWER7 and System x servers addresses the need for more efficiency in data centers currently beset by information silos and wrestling with high energy costs. This ability is provided mainly through the Unified Resource Manager, an integrated virtual hardware platform manager that promises to manage POWER7 and x86 blade servers as virtual components running on the machine’s zBX extension cabinet. These capabilities, however, will not ship until later this year.

It remains too early to fully evaluate the payoff of the zEnterprise 196. Even Swiss Re won’t have all the cross-platform pieces for months. And it will be months after that until meaningful production and performance metrics start to emerge.

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