The offering is an add-on for IBM's z196 or z114 zEnterprise mainframe systems, and will be available starting Dec. 16. It effectively gives IT organizations the ability to install and manage Windows-based System x blades on the mainframe. Until now, IBM only supported Linux or AIX-based blades on zEnterprise.
Who could most benefit from such a setup?
IBM is aiming the technology mostly at companies that run Windows apps that need to access data that's stored and crunched on the big iron. While existing technology already allows for such connections, running Windows blades directly within the zEnterprise environment should mean faster performance and simplified management through the zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager.
Those are keys for Eurocontrol, the European air traffic management agency that's been piloting the technology at its data center in the Netherlands.
"On our existing servers, the various applications operate independently on diverse platforms, based upon the one-server, one-application model," said Huub Meertens, head of support engineering at Eurocontrol. "The combination of System z with Intel servers in an ensemble configuration turns out to be the best solution."
[IBM doesn't think much about Oracle's comparisons of its T4 Servers and SuperCluster product to IBM Power 7 products. Learn why: IBM Calls Out Oracle On Server And Systems Claims.]
Another organization that is kicking the tires on IBM's Windows-zEnterprise hybrid is NLB, one of Slovenia's largest banks. The financial institution stores key data on an IBM DB2 database running on zEnterprise. With the introduction of Windows apps directly into the system, the bank is achieving "significantly improved query response times," said NLB CIO Ales Levstek.
"The new zEnterprise technology is highly scalable and flexible, which means that our users are now able to access the information they need more quickly," said Levstek.
Industry watchers say IBM's move to support rival Microsoft's technology on its mainframes amounts to recognition by Big Blue that Windows remains the dominant OS for distributed computing environments.
"It struck many observers that the issue [Windows support on zEnterprise] absolutely had to have been an option," said Stephen Bartlett, a senior contributing analyst for the Clipper Group.
Beyond performance gains, IBM is pitching the solution as a money saver. Consolidating Windows servers into the zEnterprise can cut total cost of ownership for distributed platforms by as much as 70%, the company said.
The technology is the result of IBM's ongoing efforts to rejuvenate the mainframe as a mainstream platform for business IT organizations, and not just those, like scientific research or financial trading organizations, with high-performance computing (HPC) requirements.
Over the past several years, IBM has invested $1.5 billion into developing mainframe technologies, like the Unified Resource Manager for Windows and Linux, that have everyday application in typical business environments. The move has paid off, to the extent that IBM has added 80 new mainframe customers since it launched the zEnteprise in July 2010.