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IBM Launches Z9, Latest Big-Iron Platform

New mainframe offers a wealth of security and encryption features and virtualization capabilities.

IBM on Tuesday rolled out its latest mainframe offering, the System z9, with new virtualization and security features. The z9, designed for high-performance computing environments, is available in five models ranging from one to 54 processors. IBM says the system can process 1 billion transactions per day, more than twice the performance of its predecessor, the zSeries 990.

The z9 comes loaded with security features. To thwart the kinds of snafus involving lost backup tapes that have plagued companies such as Bank of America, Citigroup, and Time-Warner, the mainframe provides the ability to encrypt tapes bound for shipment, thereby protecting consumer identities and personal information. It provides centralized management of encryption keys and supports the open Advanced Encryption Standard.

Another security feature is the ability to configure PCI-X adapters as encryption accelerators, resulting in a threefold performance hike in encrypting online transactions compared with the z990.

The system's security features are among the z9's most distinguishing characteristics. "The need to manage diverse computing environments and workloads gives rise to the need for better security, and this machine seems well suited to play that management role," says Mike Kahn, managing director at the Clipper Group, a research firm.

IBM also unveiled Virtualization Engine 2.0, a new version of the software for partitioning servers and storage systems into logical devices. The software has been enhanced to allow dynamic partitioning of systems based on IBM's Power5 processor. The z9's virtualization features enable a single system to be split up into 60 logical hardware partitions, twice as many as the z990.

IBM executives emphasized the relevance of the mainframe in traditional IT environments such as airline reservations and credit-card processing, as well as newer, collaborative systems in transportation, retail, and medicine. "Collaboration is driven by the need to connect a myriad of companies sharing data," Erich Clementi, general manager at IBM Systems, said at a press conference in New York.

A new version of IBM's Director management software extends platform coverage to support Linux on zSeries mainframes and pSeries servers, as well as the z9. IBM said it and Network Appliance Inc. plan to combine IBM's storage-virtualization technology with NetApp's V-Series storage devices. IBM also plans to extend its SAN Volume Controller to connect with Linux on zSeries mainframes.

Outside the press conference, IBM demonstrated DB2 database applications running on storage partitions. "When you bring Power5 technology and virtualization to the storage products we're bringing to market, these kind of devices are going to blur the boundaries between servers and storage," said Bill Zeitler, IBM's senior VP and group executive, systems and technology.

On the blade-server front, IBM unveiled Blade.org, an organization dedicated to advancing the BladeCenter technology co-developed by IBM and Intel. Companies that have expressed interest in joining Blade.org include Brocade, Cisco Systems, Citrix, Intel, Network Appliance, Nortel, Novell, and VMware. "Blade.org is critical in getting interoperability testing on the BladeCenter specification," says Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's server platforms group. Demand for blade servers is increasingly extending beyond data centers to incorporate remote offices and retail environments, offering vendors an opportunity to expand into small to midsize businesses.

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