IBM Showcases Next-Generation Mainframe

Double the capacity, I/O, and performance of z900 systems

IBM Corp. Tuesday unveiled its much-anticipated z990 mainframe, formerly code-named “T-Rex.” Initially available in configurations of eight and 16 processors, the z990 will scale to 64 processors by 2004.

The z990 is the product of a massive engineering effort. All told, says Bill Zeitler, Senior VP and group executive of IBM’s Systems Group, Big Blue invested more than $1 billion in a T-Rex development project that spanned four years and involved the efforts of 1,200 engineers.

As expected, the z990 is powered by IBM’s next-generation G8 CMOS and exploits new 16-way multi-chip modules (MCM) that contain more than 3.2 billion transistors. In part because the new G8 CMOS is based on IBM’s silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology, Big Blue claims that it offers three times the performance of the G7 CMOS that powers z900 systems.

“In the time that I’ve been associated with IBM … we’ve never brought out a system that has three times the ability of the system that precedes it,” observed Zeitler during the z990 launch presentation.

IBM’s new mainframe also boasts double the I/O capacity of Big Blue’s top-of-the-line z900 mainframe—512 I/O channels. By 2004, IBM officials say, the z990 will support 1024 I/O channels.

IBM is introducing many changes with the z990. It’s offering the z990 in far fewer product models: by the end of 2003, only four will be available, compared to the z900's 42. IBM will ship the A08 (eight processors) and B16 (16 processors) by June of this year; the C24 (24 processors) and D32 (32 processors) will be available by October 31st.

Also new to zSeries is support for Big Blue’s “light switch” On/Off Capacity Upgrade on Demand (CUD), which has been available for iSeries since January ( IBM says that it expects to deliver On/Off CUD support for zSeries by September or October. Finally, IBM is used a technology called logical channel subsystems, which the company claims makes it possible for customers to consolidate multiple mainframes onto a z990 system.

While the z900 supported a maximum of 15 LPARs, the z990 will accommodate up to 30 by October 31st; support for as many as 60 LPARs is expected by 2004. Hipersockets support has also been dramatically expanded: the z900 supported four, while the z990 supports 16. Finally, the z990 supports 256 GB of memory—four times as much as its top-of-the-line zSeries predecessor.

Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with consultancy Illuminata, suggests that the sheer scope of the z990 engineering effort demonstrates that IBM is committed to the long-term viability of its mainframe platforms. “It is a significant investment in terms of resources, and it's getting significant resources because it’s making money for IBM,” he says.

The upshot, Haff notes, is that “the mainframe is great for IBM—and they know it. They’ve got the [mainframe-related] hardware, they’ve got the services, and they generate a lot of revenue from each of them.”

Lynchpin for On Demand Computing

In recent months, zSeries mainframes have emerged as a key part of IBM’s On Demand strategy. At Linux World in January, for example, Big Blue touted a major customer win—the PGA Tour—for a new hosted Linux-on-zSeries service (see At the time, Warren Hart, director of Web hosting offerings for IBM’s Global Services (IGS) unit, called Big Blue’s zSeries mainframe line the “power plant for utility computing” and emphasized the importance of zSeries in the context of Big Blue’s overall On Demand strategy. “It’s very fair to say that the zSeries platform’s classic mainframe technology is the single most scalable platform that you can find, and it is rock solid reliable,” he concluded.

At its z990 launch festivities yesterday, IBM touted still another On Demand milestone for zSeries—the z990’s central role in a new Utility Management Infrastructure service that exposes mainframe computing power to customers who require it—on demand, of course. Big Blue announced that IGS will deploy the z990 in its On Demand Data Centers—beginning first in Boulder, Colo.—and will offer customers access to mainframe amenities, including processors, storage, networking and middleware.

Breathtaking Performance

IBM says that a 32-way z990 features up to 9,000 MIPS—three times the capacity of the current top-of-the-line z900. Erich Clementi, GM of eServer zSeries with ISG, claims that a single z990 can process more than 450 million e-business transactions a day, and says that a clustered z990 can process more than 13 billion transactions a day.

In addition, IBM says that a 16-way z990 can process 11,000 Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) transactions per second—a 57 percent increase over a 16-way z900 system. The fact is, suggests Charles King, a research director with the Sageza Group Inc., the z990 is not your father’s Big Iron. “Fully outfitted, this is about as high-end of a mainframe as you can get. [The new z990] pushes the performance ceiling higher in just about every performance category, and this will make existing customers happy, and could result in some new wins [for IBM] among non-traditional customers.”

IBM will begin shipping the z990 models A08 and B16 on June 16th; models C24 and D32 will appear on October 31st.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.