The IBM zBX—missing in action

While there certainly is interest in the z196, interest in the zBX, the extension cabinet for the zEnterprise, is lacking. Having interviewed a handful of z196 users recently none expressed any interest in the zBX.

IBM lists the planned availability date and other specs for the zBX Model 002 as Nov. 19, 2010, but it might as well be declared missing in action. IBM also notes Dec. 17 as the planned availability for the zBX Smart Analytics Optimizer blade. Let’s  see what happens.

Without the zBX, the z196 is just an upgrade of the z10. It is the combination of the z196 with the Unified Resource Manager and the zBX populated with a variety of blades that delivers on the promise of a hybrid server , one which combines z, POWER, and x86 platforms for running a mix of z/OS, AIX, Linux, and, eventually, Windows workloads, all managed as a single virtual device.

A distinct lack of enthusiasm for the zBX may be the result of an unusual silence from IBM, rather than the typical cheerleading. The Nov. 19 availability date passed and now the Dec. 17 date approaches yet IBM remains surprisingly silent.

In an interview with banking industry writer Penny Crosman here Jai Menon, senior VP for IBM STG, the group where the z lives, talked about the zEnterprise vision and the zBX. He said: “One key thing that got announced along with the z196 was the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) companion technology that can hold blades of other architecture types like Intel x86 and Power blades.”

Large enterprises have multiple platforms: UNIX, Linux, AIX, Windows, z/OS. For these companies, Menon continued: “The direction we want to go is what we call Flex IT. How do I take a customer like that, that’s very diverse, has lots of different architectures, and create a system that integrates all their hardware, software and application needs without their having to migrate their existing applications or buy many different kinds of equipment? The vision we have is technology that will allow us to integrate all of that in a much smaller space.”

IBM’s response is the zEnterprise with the zBX. “Our vision says we’ll give you that same integration, even better density and a smaller data center footprint with incredible power improvements, but you don’t have to migrate your applications because in this architecture, your Z apps can run, your x86 apps can run, your Power apps can run, we can carve out so much of X, so much of P, so much of Z. In fact, when you buy the machine you don’t even think of it as a Z machine or an X or P machine. You buy the system, then you decide later how much of that will be X, P, or Z. You add more x86, more P, more Z, more network, more storage and memory capacity and flexibly allocate it amongst your apps,” Menon continued.

The zEnterprise with the zBX potentially delivers that kind of multi-architecture in-a-box. For Menon this is about more than supporting what’s already there. “You’ve got to have the architecture or system that supports not just legacy but also what you don’t even know is coming,” he noted.

Swiss Re became the first publicly announced z196 user for this reason. In the press announcement, Swiss Re CIO Markus Schmid noted: “The overall performance increase of the z196 is extremely impressive. However, the key benefit of the zEnterprise System will be the ability to integrate and manage workloads running on multiple servers as multiple servers as a single system.”

In theory the zEnterprise/zBX is a fine idea. But how well it actually works in practice remains to be seen. IBM is only just starting to deliver the blades to populate the zBX. It has not announced pricing. And there is no real-world performance data.

More importantly, IBM hasn’t developed the critical zBX back stories that are essential if IT managers are to understand the value and sell the idea into their enterprises. So, many early z196 adopters simply are using it as an upgrade to the z10, what amounts to a z11. Until IBM fills in the blanks the lack of enthusiasm around the zBX will continue.

Tags: , , , ,

7 Responses to “The IBM zBX—missing in action”

  1. Richard Ramsden Says:

    This is a perfect fit for what i am looking for..Good stuff, i’ve looking like this post..And finally i got here..Thanks for sharing..5 stars for you.

  2. Richard Ramsden Says:

    Hey, you have a great stuff here. Thanks for sharing, i been looking a post like this and i was lucky i am here..thumbs up!

  3. Joe Clabby Says:

    Hi Alan:
    You raise some interesting points in this article. But, although you and I usually see eye-to-eye in the mainframe world, I think you jumped the gun on zEnterprise/zBX sales. Here are my counter perspectives:

    1) When new technologies are introduced (and this is a truly ground-shaking new technology), IT buyers tend to wait and see the results achieved by the early adopters before buying. Most of the zEnterprise/zBX orders have just recently shipped. I expect feedback on these products to start to come to market in another three to six months. I agree with you that IBM hasn’t developed the critical zBX back stories — but I think it is premature to expect those stories given that customers are just now receiving their zEnterprise/zBX systems.
    2) I talked to about twenty mainframe users from different companies at SHARE (a mainframe user group) in Boston this summer. About half of these people were aware of z/Enterprise and z/BX — and a few (about three) said they were going to examine it more closely in the coming year. This wasn’t a huge or scientific survey — but it did show me that there is zEnterprise awareness in the mainframe community — and that maybe 15 percent of IBM’s customers are interested in it at present. My conclusions based on these conversations are that IBM still needs to build more zEnterprise awareness — but 15 percent interest in this new technology is pretty good in my book.
    3) zEnterprise/zBX is not a volume sale. Some of these configurations are a million dollar plus when combining hardware, software, and services. IT buyers need to do a lot of justification in order to spend this amount of money — especially in tough economic times. I think you article reads like there should be a big jump in sales of zBX at this point — and I’m convinced that this is not the case. Adoption rate will be slow initially until the proof points are in place. The expectation that a lot of zBXs should have sold by now is not a realistic expectation.
    4) zBX at present contains only POWER blades. I expect significantly more interest in this product when the x86-based blades arrive.
    5) Finally, you published this in mid-December — which is just before the end of the 4th quarter (usually IBM’s biggest quarter of the year). Last quarter IBM saw a big jump in z sales — I’m expecting the same this quarter. And some of those sales will be zEnterprise/zBX configs. Momentum will be slow initially — but it will build as z196 sales continue to rise.

    I’m glad you provided your perspectives on zBX in your article. I just think your expectations may be a little too high for such a radically new technology. zEnterprise and zBX will succeed over time when people see how much money they can save using this configuration. But you’ve got to give this technology more than a couple of months before you claim that there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for such an advanced product offering as this…

    • dancingdinosaur Says:

      You’re right that it is too early to expect the cash register to ring on the zBX. My concern was the lack even of interest in it among the handful of users I’d spoken with recently. That I attribute to IBM’s lack of filling in the back story.

  4. Rich Ptak Says:

    Sorry Joe, I have to go with Alan on this one. On announcement day, I spent a fair amount of time with both current and past IBM technical and market knowledgeable heavy weights discussing the potentially game-changing impact of the z196 – zBX combination. There was unanimous agreement of the seismic shift this could make in the market.

    But, there’s always a ‘but’, there was also unanimous agreement that IBM had to undertake a significant effort to educate the market about this potential. The focus on the z196 is understandable given it was the first to shift. But the truly revolutionary market impact is in the transparent access to and ability to leverage the COMBINATION. AND, this is not immediately obvious. Nor, is the fact that IBM is facilitating and optimizing infrastructure utilization across mainframe PLUS distributed PLUS x86 platforms.

    As competitors pound away at IBM as being ‘all mainframe all the time’, IBM is losing a unique opportunity to promote it’s cross platform strength. Yes, it would be great if they had real-live customers with cross-platform experience and they will BUT in the interim – they can and should be running scenarios of what this fully integrated and automated Data Center makes possible.

    HP does it all the time. Larry is doing the same with Sun stories and benchmarks – for all they lack in relation to the real world.The competition is filling the vacuum with ‘it’s the same old mainframe story from IBM’. But, the competition is focused on telling the story that takes hold in the minds of potential buyers.

    I agree with Alan. It doesn’t have to be and IBM shouldn’t let it be that way.

  5. Deru Sudibyo Says:

    One more thing missing is system i. I don’t know what was told in the presentation, because in my country is not yet conducted. But, shown in some pictures zBX has Power blade inside to support PowerVM. We also know that PowerVM is to virtualize Linux, AIX and IBM i (i5/OS or new version of OS/400) on Power systems (see But, most of zBX descriptions, articles and/or presentation only talk about AIX and Linux. System i is never explicitly mentioned. Any one know why? Does zBX fully support PowerVM? Does everything supported by PowerVM on Power system also supported by PowerVM on zBX? Billions thanks in advance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: