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IBM punts first z196 mainframes

Swiss Re takes two

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Big Blue said today that it has shipped its first System zEnterprise 196 mainframe, and it is a whopper.

In fact, IBM shipped two zEnterprise 196 boxes to Swiss Re, the Zurich-based re-insurer that is one of the few mainframe users in existence that predates IBM itself - Swiss Re is 147 years old, and IBM turns 100 next year.

Schweizerische Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft AG, as the re-insurer is properly named, is the poster child for the kind of company that loves mainframes, no matter how much Intel and Oracle might protest otherwise. Swiss Re owns the St Mary Axe tower, the gherkin of a building where it has its London headquarters. And, you guessed it, Swiss Re has its U.S. headquarters right down the road from Big Blue in Armonk, New York. So this particular mainframe deal has to rank as one of IBM's easiest for 2010 and 2011.

Swiss Re has taken delivery of two fully loaded zEnterprise 196 mainframes in its Zurich data center, each with 96 cores. These machines were launched in July and can have 80 cores spinning at 5.2 GHz and 3 TB allocated to a single system image running z/OS. With 80 cores dedicated to z/OS, the z196 is rated at more than 50,000 MIPS of aggregate processing capacity. At 1,200 MIPS of raw performance each, each single engine in the box has about 30 percent more MIPS than its z10 predecessors. (Customers can allocate non-z/OS cores to do other work, such as manage I/O or clustering software, run Linux, or accelerate Java or DB2 workloads.)

IBM kept mainframe engine prices steady with the zEnterprise196, so that works out to a 23 per cent improvement in price/performance. As IBM told El Reg back at the July launch, the company has cut memory, maintenance, Linux engine, and z/VM license costs by 35 per cent on the new mainframes. Software licenses are the same.

This is apparently enough improvement in bang for the buck to keep a giant multinational insurance company happy, but don't be surprised when your rates go up. Well, they were going up anyway, and you don't need an actuarial to figure that out.

Swiss Re has set up each of its new zEnterprise 196 machines to have 20,590 MIPS of capacity dedicated to running z/OS workloads, plus ten Integrated Facility for Linux engines for running Linux and an unspecified number of engines set up as System z Application Assist Processors (zAAPs) to offload the processing of Java workloads running on those z/OS engines. (zAAP engines cost less than z/OS engines, so customers get a bit of a break.)

According to sources at IBM, Swiss Re is upgrading earlier generations of mainframes and is interested in the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, or zBX, a somewhat tightly coupled chassis that links back to the zEnterprise 196 mainframe over a private and secure 10 Gigabit Ethernet link to the mainframe engines. The zBX allows for Power and x64 blades from IBM to act as application servers for mainframe workloads.

It is hard to say how much Swiss Re paid for the two mainframes because IBM doesn't publish pricing for the machines and with such a big mainframe deal, so many things get tossed in that it would be hard to separate out the cost of the basic iron. But based on some back-of-the-envelope math, buying two brand new zEnterprise 196 machines with an aggregate of 41,180 MIPS should run somewhere around $30m including a reasonable amount of memory and no software licenses. Adding in the IFLs and zAAPs probably doesn't change pricing all that much, since these are significantly less expensive than engines dedicated to running z/OS and its related systems software stack.

The question everyone wants to answer is how many other mainframe deals has IBM done since it started shipping the boxes on September 10. There's not a lot of time between now and the end of the third quarter, and if IBMers want to get their bonuses, there had better be a lot of mainframe deals. IBM is not talking numbers, of course, but says financial services firms, manufacturers, and retailers from the U.S., Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico, Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Japan, Brazil, and Canada have ordered zEnterprise 196 boxes in varying sizes.

I find myself wondering how eager the formerly independent EDS, now part of Hewlett-Packard, the formerly independent Perot Systems, now part of Dell, and the formerly independent ACS, now part of Xerox are to buy new mainframes. ®

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