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IBM today shoved a new mainframe - the z9 - at the front of an army of hardware announcements that also included new blade server items, new virtualization software and an expanded partnership with Network Appliance. Big Blue disgorged this at an event in New York.

As predicted here, IBM will spruce up the zSeries mainframe line by releasing the 38-processor z9 system in September. That box will give customers 40 per cent more horsepower than the current high-end z990. IBM will also have three, smaller z9 models available in September.

Observers, however, were surprised to learn that IBM has an even bigger system in the works. It plans to ship a whopping 54-processor behemoth in November with up to 512GB of memory.

The new mainframes could revive a struggling zSeries unit at IBM. Mainframe sales have fallen by double-digits the last two quarters and zSeries staff have been let go as a result.

Unlike some past, troubled mainframe upgrades, IBM appears to have all the bells and whistles customers desire ready with the z9. Along with the processing boost, the z9 can run twice as many logical partitions - 60 - as the z990, ships with a built-in cryptography feature and an improved hashing algorithm (SHA-256), has the option of configuring Crypto Express2 PCI-X adapters as accelerators and has up to 80 per cent better I/O. IBM pushed the security features particularly hard after taking ages to deliver similar technology with the z990 and losing many sales as a result.

Real Linux/mainframe enthusiasts will be pleased to know that IBM plans to have the SAN Volume Controller product work with Linux on the mainframe partitions at some point in the not too distant future.

In total, IBM reckons it took $1.2bn, three years and 5,000 staff to craft the z9. The system can crunch through a billion transactions per day, which is twice the number of its predecessor, and it can process up to 6,000 secure "online handshakes" per second thanks to some of the acceleration tools. IBM will use the one- to 54-processor versions of the z9 to try and maintain existing mainframe customers, open new business running Linux on the giants and to ward off threats from Unix rivals HP and Sun Microsystems.

Blades sharpened

Away from the big iron, IBM zeroed in on some of its smallest servers. IBM has pushed to convince networking companies, storage vendors and software makers to create complementary products for its BladeCenter line of Xeon-, Opteron-, and Power-based blade servers. IBM, along with Intel, have hoped to foster some level of standardization in the blade market with their products of course being the standards companies such as HP, Dell and Sun Microsystems are eventually meant to adopt.

Along those lines, IBM dangled CipherOptics, Cisco, Nominum, QLogic and SANRAD as new customers willing to build products for the BladeCenter line. In addition, IBM "announced the intention to form an industry community around BladeCenter called Blade.org." The first members of this "community"- another word for a list - are Brocade, Cisco, Citrix Systems, IBM, Intel Corporation, Network Appliance, Nortel, Novell and VMware. This marks the first time we recall a vendor using an entire press release to declare its "intention" to start a web site, but if any company could pull off the feat, it's IBM. Surely, it could have put its army of bloggers to work to get more than this on the site.

IBM also announced Version 2.0 of its Virtualization Engine package, which combines a number of different applications to let customers manage a wide range of server and storage hardware.

Last and probably not least, IBM spiced up its buddy act with NetApp. Big Blue already resells NetApp's NAS (network attached storage) line, and now the companies plan to create tighter bonds between their storage management software products. In particular, the SAN Volume Controller package will soon work with NetApp's V-Series virtualization boxes and NetApp's NAS line.

There is some nice analysis of the new z9 available here for free

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