IBM's New z114: A Most Affordable Big Iron Solution

The new zEnterprise really does comprise Big Blue's most mainstream mainframe release to date. At $75,000, it's certainly the cheapest.

IBM Corp. positions its new zEnterprise 114 as a mainframe system for the rest of us. The kind of Big Iron workhorse that non-Global 2000 shops -- especially small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) -- can sink their teeth into. Much like previous mainframe-for-the-rest-of-us entries -- such as the Baby z800, z890, and IBM's z9 and z10 Business Class (BC) systems.

It may be, however, that the new zEnterprise really does comprise Big Blue's most mainstream mainframe release to date.

If nothing else, its price tag -- as low as $75,000 for a z114 system with three processors -- makes it IBM's most affordable Big Iron offering.

Big Blue isn't just simply serving up an inexpensive mainframe and asking its customers to figure out what to do with it. The introduction of zEnterprise, and, especially, of IBM's zEnterprise BladeCenter eXtender (zBX), changed everything in this regard, argues veteran industry watcher Alan Radding. "With the introduction of the zEnterprise, consisting of a z196 and an attached zBX, the hybrid mainframe became real and with it the possibility of running and managing truly new workloads through the z," writes Radding, on his DancingDinosaur blog.

This spring, for example, IBM announced plans to support Windows running in a zBX context. This won't put Windows on nearly the same footing as Linux -- which IBM supports on System z itself -- but it should give shops a means to manage Windows along with mainframe, Linux, AIX, Java, and other workloads in the context of a single virtualized system.

With the z114's starting price tag of $75,000, shops have more incentive than ever to consider shifting non-traditional workloads onto Big Iron. "This lowers the risk of testing new workloads on the z," Radding argues.

Consider business intelligence (BI) workloads, which IBM claims to accelerate by means of its zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) and its Smart Analytics zBX sidecar for zEnterprise. The availability of both options, coupled with the affordability of a zEnterprise 114, might tempt shops to reconceptualize how they host some of their BI workloads. "[W]ould an organization now be more willing to try BI against production data residing on the z as a new workload if they could get a discounted price?" Radding asks. "They could, of course, run BI on a slew of Intel servers for less, but they would give up the proximity of their data and the potential for near real-time BI."

Lifting the Hood

Big Blue says the new z114 costs 25 percent less than its predecessor, the IBM z10 BC, while delivering a nominal 18 percent performance boost on bread-and-butter System z workloads. (Some applications -- particularly computationally-intensive workloads -- could see as much as a 25 percent boost, says IBM. This is thanks chiefly to "compiler enhancements.")

The z114 ships with a nominal complement of three processors -- for a baseline capacity of 26 MIPS -- but can be outfitted with up to 14 processors (for up to 3,100 MIPS), as many as 10 of which can be configured as specialty processors.

It's a considerably more modular proposition than any of its predecessors, too.

That has Timothy Sipples, the in-house blogger for IBM's Mainframe Blog, crowing. "For the first time that I can remember, and certainly for the first time since 64-bit z/Architecture debuted, all of IBM's mainframe models feature flexible, modular processor configurations. That is, you can order a z114 with either one or two processor 'drawers' installed," wrote Sipples, arguing that "IBM has found a very smart way to lower the costs of entry into the mainframe world."

In this scheme, a shop could order a single "drawer" z114 M05 and -- should it require additional capacity -- upgrade to an M10 by adding another "drawer."

The z114's biggest selling point, once again, is probably its historically low price tag, which permits IBM to meaningfully challenge commodity servers, at least when it comes to total cost of acquisition (TCA).

"At this price, [the z114] can begin to compete with commodity high end servers on a TCA basis, especially if it is bundled with discount programs like IBM's System z Solution Editions and unpublicized offers from IBM Global Finance," writes Radding. "To achieve a low TCA, IBM clearly is ready to make deals," he continues, noting that "IBM also has lowered software costs to deliver the same capacity for 5 [to] 18 percent less through a revised Advanced Workload License Charges (AWLC) pricing schedule." In addition, Radding notes, Big Blue revised its processor value unit (PVU) rating that it uses to price IFLs; this change could reduce Linux costs by almost half (or 48 percent). Finally, leasing via IBM Global Finance could net customers another 3 percent of savings.

Even so, he concedes, a fully outfitted z114 will probably cost considerably more than $75,000. That likewise makes it (considerably) more expensive than high-end Itanium hardware from rival Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.

If z114 is going to win a pricing war, Radding concludes, it'll do so on the platform par excellence for consolidation. "As soon as there are multiple servers in a consolidation play, that's where the z114 payback lies," he argues.

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