IBM launches zEnterprise 196 'data center in a box'
Mainframe battles back
IBM has launched its next-generation System z mainframe, the zEnterprise 196. Now we will get to find out, in the next few quarters or so, if the mainframe business still has some legs and can grow or the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 has permanently knocked it down a peg or two.
At the launch event today in New York, IBM's top brass did a lot of jawboning about the significance of the zEnterprise 196 system, which marries a new quad-core processor and a slew of new technologies together as well as Power7 and x64 blades into a hybrid computing platform. Both Rod Adkins, senior vice president of the Systems and Technology division that has been merged into  the newly created Systems and Software Group, and his boss, Steve Mills, who has run Software Group for many years and now has control of all systems and software at Big Blue, made much of the fact that the zEnterprise 196 is hybrid machine – and one that brings mainframe attributes to distributed systems.
"This is a bigger, badder, bolder machine," explained Adkins. "[But] this is really the industry's first multiarchitecture platform." And Mills said much the same. "There is nothing in the market like this, nor will there be in the next ten years," Mills declared in the emphatic and clear way he speaks. (Mills is by far the best speaker of all of IBM's top brass, and if he were younger, would no doubt soon be in charge of Big Blue).
While this is the kind of hyperbole you expect at IT announcements, that doesn't make what Adkins and Mills said strictly true. Mainframe rival Unisys has been selling ClearPath mainframes with x86 and then x64 processors alongside their Sperry and Burroughs mainframe engines for more than a decade.
Unisys even runs its MCP and OS 2200 operating systems in emulation – on top of Windows or Linux on x64 iron, respectively – if customers want to do that. That's a hybrid system. Since 1994, IBM's own AS/400 had internal x86 and x64 co-processors plugged into the system bus of the CISC and then PowerPC RISC systems. These co-processors could run Windows, OS/2, NetWare, and Linux and stored data on the same disks as the AS/400. IBM abandoned the internal x64 co-processors when it merged its AIX and OS/400 lines three years ago. There are no doubt many other examples of hybrid systems, which I am sure readers will remind me of in comments.
So what is all this hyperbole about hybrid architectures? First, it solves some real customer needs, this coupling of disparate servers and putting it all under control of the rock-solid IBM mainframe environment. But perhaps more importantly, by putting Power and x64 iron under the skins of its mainframe servers, IBM can from here on out make mainframe sales look larger than they might otherwise be. Now, instead of selling separate BladeCenter chassis and Power or x64 blade servers that get put into the System x or Power Systems buckets every quarter, IBM will be selling zBlade Extension modules with blade servers that get put into the System z bucket. Clever, isn't it?
Moreover, the tighter coupling of mainframe, Power, and x64 systems into a single product makes it harder for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Fujitsu to sell x64 racks and blades into mainframe shops because they won't have the Uniform Resource Manager special sauce that IBM is adding to its Systems Director tools with the z196 machine.
zEnterprise 196: HP, Dell, and Fujitsu--Keep Out
A similar hardware bundling strategy certainly worked for the AS/400 business in the 1990s, when IBM started selling disk storage arrays tucked inside the boxes instead of outboard 933X disks that were traditionally sold with System/3X and AS/400 midrange gear. These 933X disks were sold by IBM's Storage Division, not the AS/400 Division, so the AS/400 Division didn't get credit for the sale. But once it switched to internal disks, suddenly AS/400 hardware sales stopped dropping.
But not really. Processor sales kept falling right along their predictable trend as Unix and Windows servers started eating into the midrange. A little further down the road, IBM treated its 5250 protocol (which drives transactions to and from green screens) as if it were hardware to pump up its hardware sales figures, when everyone knew it was software. (The company shifted back to selling it as software a few years ago after a company called Fast400 figured out how to unlock the features, in a way that is analogous to what Neon Software is doing to move workloads from mainframe engines to zIIP and zAAP accelerator engines on IBM's prior generations of System z9 and z10 mainframes).
There's more to the zEnterprise 196 than this hybrid computing stuff that IBM it talking about at length today. There is, as El Reg previously reported , a substantially upgraded mainframe at the heart of this machine. This machine, said Adkins, was the result of $1.5bn in research and development spending, with more than 5,000 IBMers working from 18 different labs participating in the project; 30 key mainframe customers also took part in the design of the z196 machine.
This is an astounding amount of money. One wonders how IBM is allocating its R&D budget and how hardware and software technologies developed for the z196 will drift over to its other systems, giving them functionality for very little incremental cost because the mainframe foot most of the bill.
As expected, the zEnterprise 196 is based on a four-core processor that runs at 5.2 GHz and the system is based on a four-book system configuration with six of these four-core processors on a single book. That gives a total footprint of 96 cores in a single system, but the z/OS and Linux operating system can only span 80 cores in a symmetric multiprocessing configuration.
The z196 processor delivers around 1,200 MIPS per engine and about 50,000 MIPS in a single system image across those 80 cores - a tad bit higher than the 1,100 MIPS and 48,000 MIPS I expected, but within reasonable guesstimates. There are 15 different subcapacity configurations for the zEnterprise 196, and five different models: M15, M32, M49, M66, and M80. The number in the designation shows the maximum number of cores each machine can dedicate to client workloads, whether they are regular engines for running z/OS or set up as specialty processors for running Linux (IFLs) accelerating DB2 databases (zIIPs) or Java and XML workloads (zAAPs).
The zEnterprise 196 supports up to 3 TB of DDR3 main memory that has been given RAID protection, much as disk arrays have - something IBM calls RAIM memory, short for Redundant Array of Independent Memory. (We'll be digging into that as soon as we find out more).
What the zEnterprise 196 can also include the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, or zBX, which is a standard server rack that includes a top-of-rack 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch, a BladeCenter chassis, and power distribution units for the blades. The zBX rack can house up to four chassis and links to the mainframe by two private 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks – one for management and the other for data being passed between the Power and x64 systems and the mainframe. The BladeCenter chassis has a separate switch for letting the outside world talk to the Power and x64 blades as application or infrastructure servers.
I had been speculating  that IBM could use an InfiniBand link to lash the blades to the mainframe, but apparently this capability was not ready. There is some mumbling that tighter coupling between the machines is coming down the pike at some future time, but IBM did not confirm this at the announcement. Each zEnterprise 196 can have eight zBX chassis, for a total of 112 blades.
IBM says the whole shebang – with z engines and blades – can support up to 100,000 virtual machines. Something it claims no other machine can touch. (I guess it really depends on how you define machine).
At the moment, IBM is supporting only its single-socket, eight-core Power Systems 701 blade servers in the zBX chassis. (El Reg told you all about the Power7-based blade servers, which were announced in April, here .) IBM is only supporting AIX on these blades, not its proprietary i (formerly OS/400) operating system or Linux. Customers will be able to support Linux on x64 blades, but the x64 blades for the zBX are not expected to be available until sometime in the first half of 2011. The word on the street is that IBM will be using Red Hat's KVM hypervisor on these blades, and it is likely that the company is working to integrate KVM with the Hardware Management Console that IBM uses to control its z/VM on mainframe and PowerVM on Power hypervisors.
The one thing that the zEnterprise 196 will not have is a lower price tag compared to the System z10 it replaces. According to Karl Freund, vice president of System z strategy and marketing at IBM, the pricing per mainframe engine for the zEnterprise 196 is exactly the same as it was on the System z10. (IBM does not reveal its mainframe pricing, so it is hard to say what that number is, but it is hundreds of thousands of dollars per core). Each zEnterprise 196 engine has about 30 per cent more MIPS for that same money, which works out to a 23.4 per cent reduction in the cost of mainframe capacity.
IBM is not being totally stingy with mainframe shops. Freund did say that IBM had cut memory prices, maintenance, and Linux engine, and z/VM license costs by 35 per cent on the zEnterprise 196 machines compared to the z10s.
With the Power7 midrange machines announced  in February, IBM held its system level prices on the Power 750 and 770 boxes about the same as their Power6+ predecessors, but the boxes had twice the aggregate oomph. This is a much bigger jump in bang for the buck.
The zEnterprise 196 machines are expected to start shipping on September 10. The z/OS V1.9 operating system, which goes off support on September 30 along with the end of sales for the System z10 mainframes, will run on the zEnterprise 196 server, but its takes z/OS V1.10 to exploit some of the new processor features and z/OS V1.12 to fully exploit it. If you want to use the zBX blades, you need to be at z/OS V1.10 and z/VM V6.1 at least.
z/VM 5.4 will run on the new mainframe, as will IBM's z/VSE V4.1 or higher and z/TPF V1.1 or higher operating systems. Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 or 11 will run natively on the z196 engines, as will Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5. (Presumably RHEL 6 support is coming concurrent with that operating systems release within the next few months). On the Power blades in the zBX chassis, you need to run AIX 5.3 or 6.1, and presumably when AIX 7 ships around October, these will also be supported. The PS701 blades themselves will not ship in the zBX unit until November 19. ®