IBM’s z9 Stirs Up Mainframe Market

MIPS-wise, the new z9 is among the most flexible mainframe systems IBM has ever developed.

The new z9 mainframe systems IBM Corp. announced last month are promoted as having improved security, virtualization, performance, and availability capabilities. As of last week, Big Blue formally started shipping its new z9-109 systems so customers can judge for themselves.

IBM’s z9 push comes in the wake of disappointing mainframe systems growth and Big Iron-related job cuts at several key platform bellwethers.

Big Iron revenues saw a double-digit decline over the first two quarters. In Q2, for example, zSeries MIPS shipments were down 19 percent, while revenues plummeted 24 percent. Just last month, Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) announced a five percent reduction in its work force, triggered in part by slackening demand for mainframe software and services. Both BMC Software Inc. and IBM also announced mainframe job cuts.

Big Blue attributed the decline to pent-up anticipation for z9. So now that it’s finally shipping, is IBM seeing a corresponding surge in demand?

Colette Martin, director of market management for IBM’s system z9, is noncommittal—which isn’t surprising, given the danger of forward-looking statements and the potential for investor litigation. “I really can’t comment too much on what we see from a future perspective, but I will say that we’re really pleased with this product introduction. We’re really pleased with the customer acceptance that we’re seeing. Customers are very excited about it. They like the new technologies and we are shipping these things,” she says.

Nevertheless, Martin says, IBM is seeing interest from many in the mainframe fold—particularly from large shops. “When we start shipping a new server, it’s frequently some of our larger customers who actually are the early adopters. We’ve got some big boxes going out.”

MIPS-wise, the new z9 is among the most flexible mainframe systems IBM has ever developed. Big Blue offers five different models (S08, S18, S28, S38, and S54) and is also marketing at least one z9 system (the eight-way S08 model) that‘s available with only a single engine. IBM’s z9 model names, for the record, denote the engine complement of a mainframe system, which scales all the way up to 54 in the case of the S54. The first four systems became available last week; the high-end S54 is expected to ship in November. This translates into an almost staggering breadth of MIPS entry points.

“The z9-109 actually ranges in size from just a little under 600 MIPS from the smallest capacity model all the way up to almost 17,800 MIPS on the high end, so that’s a huge range,” Martin explains.

Ever-larger processor unit (PU) complements are one thing. When it ships, the z9-109 S54 mainframe will have 22 more engines than its highest-end z990 predecessor. Nevertheless, the prime reasons for z9-109 uptake reflect concerns other than performance, Martin argues.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in this particular mainframe because of the availability characteristics and because of the security characteristics. So customers who are on existing mainframes, the z900s and z990s, are very interested in moving forward to the new mainframe,” she notes. “Some of the first boxes that are going out the door are, in fact, to large customers who have these [z900 and z990] systems.”

Mainframes are notoriously available platforms, but with the z9, IBM claims to have whittled planned unavailability down to four hours per year. Martin says new hot-plug and hot-upgrade resilience capabilities are in part responsible for the new mainframe’s marathon uptime.

“There’s a lot of business resilience offerings, as well as our availability offerings that help customers do hot upgrade. One of the interesting features of this program: it’s really important for customers who are very concerned about availability. So you can upgrade; you can add engines at a later period of time without needing to take an outage.”

Big Blue’s new mainframe system is also designed to function as the hub of an organization’s data-security architecture. Users can encrypt data stored on the z9 mainframe itself as well as on backup tapes. According to IBM, the z9 can encrypt as many as 6,000 “secure online handshakes” per second—that’s more than twice as many as its high-end predecessor.

Mainframe Systems Management Par Excellence

IBM’s mainframe fortunes could get a big shot in the arm when Big Blue starts shipping its 54 PU z9-109 systems this November.

Even so, IBM has an even more potent product waiting in the wings, in the form of its much-anticipated Tivoli System z9 management suite. Tivoli System z9 is based in part on software asset management (SAM) technology Big Blue acquired from the former Isogon, as well as application management capabilities it picked up from Cyanea Systems.

When it ships—probably later this year or early in 2006, according to IBM officials—Tivoli System z9 will provide mainframe operators with an end-to-end view of their infrastructures, including zSeries mainframes and distributed platforms.

About the Author

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