IBM heaves new System z minis at mainframe shops

Hooking fat Xeon blades into 'system of systems'


While all of this hybrid computing is interesting, what mainframe shops care about first is how much computing capacity the zEnterprise 114 has and what it's going to cost.

The zEnterprise 196 Enterprise Class machine announced a year ago is based on a 5.2GHz, four-core CISC processor designed and fabbed by IBM in its New York mainframe stomping grounds. The z196 puts six of these four-core z11 processors onto a single system board – what IBM calls a processor book in the System z and high-end Power Systems lines.

Up to four of these books can be configured into a single system image with as many as 80 cores dedicated to running a single workload across up to 3TB of DDR3 main memory in the z196 machine. Each one of those z11 cores is rated at around 1,200 MIPS running at 5.2GHz, and a system with all 80 cores activated to run z/OS workloads can deliver an aggregate of 52,000 MIPS. IBM offers five different models of the z196 – the M15, M32, M49, M66, and M80 – with the number designating the maximum number of CPs in the setup.

The zEnterprise 114 is based on z11 processors running at 3.8GHz rather than 5.2GHz of the z196 machines. Based on past trends between the EC and BC lines, we had expected IBM to use 4.1GHz cores and deliver 980 MIPS of processing capacity per engine, and about 3,400 aggregate MIPS across five processing engines. As it turns out, the zEnterprise 114 machines use slightly slower engines and deliver only 3,100 aggregate MIPS and just under 900 MIPS per engine if they are operated in stand-alone, non-SMP mode.

That's still roughly 18 percent more oomph per engine than the System z10 BC machines that the zEnterprise 114 BC replaces, and with tweaks to development tools, IBM says that customers migrating to the newer mini mainframe can see 25 per cent performance boosts thanks to 100 new CISC instructions in the z11 engines and changes to compilers to make use of them.

Dialing for dollars

IBM is offering 130 different speed settings across the M05 and M10 machines, ranging from a low of 26 MIPS on the entry M05 to 3,100 MIPS on the largest M10. If you need more oomph than that, you'll need to upgrade to the zEnterprise 196 M15. IBM offers upgrade paths to the M15 as well as between the M05 and M10 models, and from the prior z9 BC and z10 BC machines into the zEnterprise 114 BC machines.

The entry zEnterprise 114 machine sells for $75,000, which is a bit less costly than the $100,000 price tag for the z10 BC machines announced nearly three years ago. Last year, IBM held main processor prices on the zEnterprise 196 machine steady after boosting the performance 30 per cent compared to the System z10 EC machines, which worked out to a 23 per cent improvement in bang for the buck.

The price reduction on the base zEnterprise 114 is in the same ballpark. IBM cut main memory prices on the high-end EC mainframes by 35 per cent last summer, and Doris Conti, director of System z marketing at IBM tells El Reg that the memory price cuts have been passed down to the new BC box as well.

Specialty engine prices on the zEnterprise 114 machines have also come down quite a bit. On the System z10 BC machine, you had to shell out $47,500 per core to turn it into an IFL for running Linux, but on the z114 BC, the price is now only $35,000. That's a 37.5 per cent improvement in bang for the buck for engines running Linux. (IBM also cut the prices on IFLs last summer from $75,000 on the z10 EC to $55,000 on the z196 EC, which was a 43.5 per cent improvement in raw price/performance for running Linux.)

On the new zEnterprise 114 machines, zIIPs and zAAPs cost $40,000 – a lot cheaper than the $100,000 that IBM charges for zIIP and zAAP processors on the zEnterprise 196 machines.

Software and maintenance price cuts, too

In addition to hardware price cuts, the zEnterprise 114 is also getting a rejiggered system software price list that allows customers to save anywhere from 5 to 18 per cent on their IBM software bill. This price change will kick in starting January 2012. Maintenance prices on the z114s are, MIPS for MIPS, set 5 per cent lower, too.

The zEnterprise 114 machine can run the current z/OS V1.11, V1.12, and V1.13 releases as well as the V1.8 and V1.9 releases that are on "lifecycle extension" support now, and the V1.10 release that goes into extended support on September 30 of this year. If you want to use the zBX blades, you'll have to be at z/OS V1.10 or higher.

The server will support z/VM or higher, but you'll need to be at z/VM 6.1 or higher to use the zBX cluster. z/VSE V4.2 and higher and z/TPF 1.1 are also supported on the zEnterprise 114 BC system.

You night be wondering why IBM bothers with a mini mainframe at all. The reason is simple: customers want it, and they'll pay for it so long as it offers better pricing than the high-end System z machines.

"The BC machines are about half of our volumes and a little less than half of our customers," says Conti. "It is a very strong part of our customer base." ®

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