IBM Launches Latest Big Iron

Mainframe system ups relevance by doubling processing power and adds security measures that include encrypting backup tapes
IBM last week revved its mainframe line, launching the System z9 with new virtualization and security features and the ability to process 1 billion transactions a day, more than twice the performance of its predecessor, IBM says.

The z9 comes in five models ranging from one to 54 processors. Security features include the ability to encrypt backup tapes, making them less vulnerable to data theft if they're lost or stolen. Bank of America, Citigroup, and Time Warner are among the large companies that recently have had backup tapes containing sensitive customer or employee data disappear during shipment.

The z9 provides centralized management of encryption keys and supports the open Advanced Encryption Standard. It also can configure PCI-X adapters as encryption accelerators, resulting in a threefold performance hike in encrypting online transactions compared with its predecessor, the z990.

The new 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 is counting on the z9 to revive its mainframe business. Sales were down 24% in IBM's second quarter, ended June 30, compared with the same quarter a year ago.

IBM also unveiled Virtualization Engine 2.0, a new version of the software for partitioning servers and storage systems. 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 execs emphasized the relevance of the mainframe in traditional IT environments such as credit-card processing and airline reservations, 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 news conference in New York.

A new version of IBM's Director management software provides Linux support on zSeries mainframes and pSeries servers, as well as the z9. IBM said it and Network Appliance Inc. will 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 news 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 for systems and technology.

IBM also unveiled, a group dedicated to advancing the BladeCenter technology that IBM and Intel have co-developed to integrate storage, servers, and networking into a single chassis. Companies that have expressed interest in joining include Brocade, Cisco Systems, Citrix, Intel, Network Appliance, Nortel, Novell, and VMware.

" 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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