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IBM Launches New Mainframe For Big Data Analytics

IBM's zEnterprise EC12 offers direct links to the company's Netezza analytics appliance, which can support scenarios like real-time fraud detection.

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IBM on Tuesday unveiled the newest entry in its zEnterprise line of mainframe computers--a 120-core system that features built-in analytics tools that can help companies quickly spot business trends, detect fraud, and gain other key insights in near real-time.

The zEnterprise EC12 is available for delivery next month. IBM did not disclose pricing, but most customers will likely acquire it through a lease rather than outright purchase given the high upfront cost of mainframes.

The EC12, the result of a $1 billion research and development effort, boasts some impressive specs. It features 120 total processor cores, 101 of them configurable. That's compared to 80 in its predecessor, the zEnterprise 196, which IBM launched two years ago.

The EC12 is the first system to use new IBM chip making technology that shrinks its CMOS silicon from 32 nanometers to 22 nm. "We're fundamentally able to get more cores connected on the chip," Doug Blalog, general manager for IBM's System z product line, said in an interview.

The configurable cores can be set to run IBM's standard z/OS mainframe operating system, or other options--such as Linux, which Blalog said is proving a popular option for running Oracle database software on the mainframe. "It's the number one software we see clients moving from distributed platforms to Linux on the mainframe."

The EC12's performance enhancements translate to less costly enterprise software licenses, which are typically priced according to the number of cores in use, according to Blalog. "If you can collapse the number of Oracle database licenses you need per core from 3 to 1 on the mainframe (compared to a distributed computing environment), you get immediate savings."

Beyond raw horsepower improvements, the zEnterprise EC12 takes advantage of IBM's push into business intelligence and analytics, which began in earnest with its $5 billion acquisition of Canadian BI software developer Cognos in 2008. The EC12 will run analytics workloads 30% faster than its predecessor, and it can be configured with a direct, high-speed link to IBM's Netezza analytics appliance. IBM bought out Netezza in 2010 for $2.7 billion.

"One of the big things you'll see the mainframe build on is what I view as the next phase of transaction processing, which embeds analytics into the system," said Blalog. "So we're doing a lot around both software and hardware optimization to allow for things like transaction-based checking for fraud detection." That is, catching fraud as it occurs.

The EC12 also uses analytics internally, to monitor its own performance and that of applications. The technology, called zAware, borrows from IBM's Watson AI engine, which was made famous on Jeopardy. "It talks to itself a lot," said Blalog.

On the security side, the EC12 incorporates a new security chip called the Crypto Express4S, which can be configured to meet standards for security sensitive applications like digital signatures, national ID cards, and electronic legal proceedings.

The zEnterprise EC12 ships on Sept. 9. IBM is offering financing with payments deferred until 2013 for qualified customers.

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