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IBM Debuts Lower Cost $75,000 Mainframe

New zEnterprise System model links apps on blades to data on the mainframe.

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IBM is introducing a mainframe computer to its zEnterprise System lineup that costs 25% less than the previous model, but still offers high-speed connections between the mainframe's data and an attached blade server hosting an application that needs that data. An industry analyst says the new mainframe serves a growing industry trend for IT vendors to better optimize system performance and offer more affordable IT that is accessible for a wider array of customers.

The IBM zEnterprise 114, announced Tuesday, is a follow-up to the zEnterprise 196 mainframe introduced in July 2010.

The model number refers to the number of server cores in each machine. While the 114 has fewer cores than the 196, its $75,000 starting price is three-quarters of the 196's, but still includes the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) feature which tightly integrates the mainframe to a blade chassis. The zEnterprise System includes Unified Resource Management firmware that manages the combined mainframe/blade setup.

The zEnterprise System enables "hybrid computing," said Doris Conti, director of System z marketing for IBM, which, in this context, refers to a system that can run both IBM's zOS and zLinux operating systems and on hardware built on either x86 or AIX Unix architectures. The blades can be either IBM Power 7 or System x servers.

IBM is also positioning the zEnterprise System as a means of enabling server consolidation in data centers, Conti said, claiming that one zEnterprise 114-based system can replace 300 HP ProLiant blades running typical Oracle workloads. IBM, which recently marked its 100th anniversary, and HP are rivals in the enterprise IT market.

Despite advances in virtualization, which seeks to control server sprawl by increasing utilization of each server, sprawl remains a problem for customers, said Conti. "They look to the mainframe to be able to consolidate and reduce footprints, consolidate onto a single box and get improved management and reliability."

But not every type of server workload is meant to be consolidated onto a mainframe, notes Jean Bozman, research VP for enterprise servers at IDC. Servers best suited to mainframe consolidation would be those whose apps need access to mainframe data, such as a business analytics app studying a database of millions of sales transactions.

Still, the zEnterprise 114 mainframe, as part of the zEnterprise System, shows that IBM is addressing customer concerns about IT optimization.

"All the vendors are talking about how they are integrating and optimizing," Bozman said, adding that, in this case IBM is improving optimization through tight links between the mainframe and the blade chassis, coupled with the Unified Resource Management firmware that manages the system. "They reduced the number of hops by creating a faster path for those requests to go directly to the mainframe to access the database," she said. "It's faster as well as harmonized."

By lowering the prize of the 114 mainframe, IBM thinks it can reach "a broader total available market" for its mainframes, Bozman added.

IBM also said that while its System x blades can run x86 Linux applications today, it expects to be able to support Microsoft Windows apps "in the future." Bozman said IDC expects Windows support to come by the end of the year.

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