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Here It Is, Your Moment of zEnterprise

IBM Set to Ship Newest zEnterprise Server with Record-Setting CPU and Split Personality

One of the most exciting acts in the technology rodeo for the past several years has been IBM - thundering around the ring astride its z/OS Clydesdale and AIX/Linux Crossbred, waving its Smarter Planet 10-gallon hat with one hand, roping dozens of ISVs with the other, and hollering, "Yippie yi yo kayah!" at the top of its lungs all the while.  What a spectacle!  What do they do for an encore?

zEnterprise 196, that's what.  Announced in July and now ready to ship in about a week, it's a  super server, a really super server.  The zEnterprise 196 is the biggest commercial system that IBM has ever built.  It is powered by the latest z-series chip, the z196, a four-core unit that for the moment gives Big Blue the bragging rights to the world's fastest microprocessor, at 5.2GHz per core.

The zEnterprise 196 server comes in five models, distinguished from one another primarily by the number of processor cores and amount of memory in each.  The entry model has 20 cores and up to 704GB of physical memory, and the four other models offer the following combinations of  number of cores and maximum memory: 40/1520, 60/2288, 80/3056, 96/3056.  The largest configuration, with up to 96 cores (24 z196 processor units) and up to more than 3 terabytes of memory, can run more than 50 billion instructions per second.  To put that in perspective, it is 17,000-fold increase over the largest IBM system from 1970. And, the new system is 60% faster than its predecessor, the z10, without consuming any more power.

The z196 processor is optimized to run either enterprise database and transaction processing workloads under the mainframe z/OS operating, or to run Java and Linux workloads, like media and web serving.  And, the zEnterprise 196 server is similarly dualistic, with a variety of attributes positioning it as both a traditional mainframe and a modern web server or cloud computing platform.

On the one hand, it has plenty of features that are sure to excite dyed-in-the-wool enterprise data center types, IBM's traditional customers, like ESCON channels, Hipersockets, and CHPIDs, and it provides a clear z/OS mainframe upgrade path and a data center consolidation platform for enterprises currently using a mix of IBM's proprietary and Linux mainframes and storage equipments.  For these users, the system also supports old-school LPARS VM mainframe-style virtualization for creating up to a few dozen z/OS and Linux virtual machines for running separate large workloads.

On the other hand, thanks to the system's optional firmware-based Unified Resource Manager, it can seamlessly integrate and manage up to 112 multi-core Power and Intel x86 blades in attached zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) cabinets for running AIX and "Lintel" applications.  The design of this feature is such that these blades can communicate with the outside world, independently of the zEnterprise 196, like normal blade servers, and they can interoperate with the zEnterprise 196 resources and workloads.  Each blade can run a single OS natively or it can run a hypervisor for multiple guest OS images.  They currently only support AIX on the Power blades and Linux on the Intel blades, but IBM may support other operating systems on them in the future.  With the attached blades working in conjunction with the z196 processors, the zEnterprise system can support up to 100,000 virtual machines.

So, the new zEnterprise system is a mainframe AND a cloud server, brining the security, speed and reliability of "back-end" resources like giant databases and blazing OLTP engines together with large scale virtualization and web server software in a single, integrated system that the company claims, with some apparent justification, is unlike any other.  It is what they are aptly calling a "system of systems".

The potential role of the zEnterprise 196 as the mother of all cloud servers is not lost on some parts of IBM.  Carol Stafford, long-time Linux sales honcho and now System z VP gets it.  She's been giving a snappy presentation ( to customers that shows how the new system brings unprecedented security, availability, virtualization, scalability and efficiency to cloud computing.  The technical folks get it.  There's one of IBM's venerated Red Books making the rounds in draft right now ( presenting a technical introduction to the zEnterprise system that illustrates the the system's role in providing a path to cloud computing for the enterprise.

So, why doesn't IBM marketing get it?  The press release announcing the availability of the zEnterprise 196 system doesn't mention the words "cloud", "virtualization" or even "web".  It doesn't talk about BladeCenter integration.  None of that.  The release calls it a mainframe a couple of times, alludes to a banking transaction use case, and generally presents it as the latest big iron, and nothing more.  The release says that IBM has invested $1.5 billion in the zEnterprise line, which makes it a pretty expensive milking machine, if that's all it is, which it isn't of course.

The shame of this, of course, is that it misses the opportunity to use that matchless big blue megaphone to school the sometimes stodgy enterprise market on the merits of high performance cloud computing, something that is badly needed.  But, thankfully this probably will not last now that Steve Mills, the IBM software don, is also running the hardware business.  He has a knack for working all the angles and a great eye for the future, so it is probably just a matter of time before marketing catches up.  Hopefully not too much time.

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

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