Big Iron at the core of IBM

Rumors of “big iron’s” death have been greatly exaggerated.

Mainframe computing continues to live on and IBM Corp. envisions a key role for the technology in its newly announced view of future virtual computing.

The company unveiled its latest and greatest new large-scale system – the System z9 – at an event in New York City on July 26 as well as a new iteration of its Virtualization Engine software.

In IBM’s vision of the future, the mainframe becomes the core of a virtual computing environment. Computing capability is apportioned to users and business processes wherever they happen to be and whenever such power is needed. The reliability and security that’s been the legacy of mainframes gets extended across a heterogeneous world of disparate systems that characterize today’s computing world.

“The mainframe is not the big closed box,” said Colette Martin, program director for System z9 strategy and marketing. She explained that mainframe technology is evolving with a mandate to become more open. However the traditional strengths of mainframe technology provide a key value to a virtualized computing world.

“There are certain things that mainframes have always done well,” Martin said.

That includes workload management and integrated workloads, she said. “The mainframe is so broad in its capabilities. It’s very much a multipurpose system.”

The plan, revealed by IBM’s Systems and Technology group, focuses on the next-generation System z9 and the latest release of Virtualization Engine 2.0 – software that allows companies to build virtualized server and storage systems.

Described as IBM’s most sophisticated and secure computing system ever, System z9 brings high-end multi-processing and rich security, which when coupled with the Virtualization Engine, extends security concepts such as encryption keys as well as high performance workload management and systems sharing ability across a range of other system platforms. IBM officials made it clear – the mainframe is at the core of its virtual computing world.

“We’ll be focusing on making the mainframe the central hub in this distributed heterogeneous world,” Martin said. “Mainframes will play a key role in managing that environment.”

Erich Clementi, IBM’s general manager of systems says the System z9 features twice the capacity of the company’s previous generation mainframe system, 80 per cent more internal bandwidth and up to a maximum of 54 CPUs built within the largest system configuration – 60 per cent more than previous-generation IBM mainframe system (the T-Rex mainframe) was capable of supporting.

“It’s not just big, it’s more secure, has less downtime and…this system is always on,” Clementi said, during an unveiling of the System z9.”This system is going to be the base for our next wave of mainframe.”

A key aspect of the System z9 is its security function “built into all system layers” in the form of PKI built within all OS layers of the mainframe system. Among other things, it provides the means to securely archive data that is typically shared across an enterprise environment. In addition, Clementi said, the System z9 enables faster and safer online transactions as well as, more secure Internet transmission, and “pre-emptive” intrusion detection.

Combined with the Virtualization Engine 2.0, IBM’s new mainframe becomes the central core that drives a highly distributed and virtual computing environment. The software lets users partition server, storage and networking resources for specific groups and processes across an enterprise. IBM says by looking to open standards interfaces it hopes to continually enhance managed interoperability between its own gear and that of other vendor partners participating in future support with Virtualization Engine 2.0.

A current group of IBM partners in this space includes network equipment maker Cisco Systems, security specialists Network Appliance and software maker VMware.

A key aspect of the Virtualization Engine 2.0 is a function called Resource Discovery, which is a database-type tool that can be used to map the devices in an enterprise computing environment – both IBM-based and equipment from other vendors. Using SNMP-based information, an administrator is able to configure a virtual environment to establish policies for uptime and failure recover, among other things.

Over time, IBM will look to introduce autonomic function within the software that will invoke actions based on established parameters, so that for example a computing environment could automatically manage a failover situation based on predefined conditions and/or business processes needs for continuance.

System z9 is currently in beta test and is expected to be available in Canada by Sept. 16. Configurations will include chassis that support up to eight, 18, 28, and 38 processors, respectively. A future chassis that supports up to 54 processors will be available in mid-November.

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