IBM hatches T-Rex with on demand computing

IBM Corp. unleashed a new beast on Tuesday – a mainframe server equipped with 32 processors and on-demand computing, code-named T-Rex.

The highly anticipated eServer zSeries 990, the next-generation of mainframes for IBM, was launched in San Francisco and represents a new evolution of power of the machine, said Markham, Ont.-based Mark Renfer, business unit executive for zSeries system for IBM Canada Ltd.

The new mainframe is a processor upgrade from IBM’s current z900 model, offering twice the number of processors. The z900 has 16 processors.

With a feature of up to 9,000 million instructions per second (MIPS), the newest addition to the zSeries family also offers three times the system capacity of the z900, Renfer said.

The z990 can scale up to process 450 million e-business transactions a day or scale out to manage hundreds of virtual Linux servers. A clustered z990 can handle up to 13 billion transactions a day, IBM said. The latest mainframe is the result of a four-year, more than $1 billion investment in the zSeries platform involving 1,200 IBM developers, Renfer said.

It is the first improvement in IBM’s mainframes in more than two years.

Renfer said IBM is committed to the zSeries marketplace and he added that the mainframe continues to be a growing platform.

“If you look at worldwide server data, IBM has gained three points of market share over the last two years. So we need to continually enhance the product and keep moving forward with it,” Renfer said, citing data from International Data Corp.’s quarterly trackers from fourth quarter 2002.

“In some cases there is a perception that the mainframe is not a growing platform but it continues to gain market share,” he said, explaining the reason why IBM continues to support the mainframe market.

A major contributing factor to the growth and requirement for bigger, faster processes “is the ability of the zSeries processors to consolidate the thousands of Linux images on a single zSeries processor,” Renfer added.

One Wellesley, Mass.-based industry analyst agrees with Renfer and said growth within the mainframe space is driven by Linux applications.

“Linux can be partitioned and can run hundreds of thousands of sessions on a single processor of the mainframe,” said Mike Kahn, managing director of The Clipper Group, Inc.

The z990 is targeted at mainframe users who want to refresh their technology, Renfer said. IBM also wants to attract customers who have new workloads they are looking to bring over the mainframe. For example, customers that have a lot of Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. or Intel Corp. servers that they want to consolidate on a single platform under Linux are targets.

At one time there was a perception within the IT industry that the mainframe platform was a dinosaur. Renfer said he wasn’t sure who made the comment several years ago, but said IBM was poking fun at the dinosaur perception by naming the servers after dinosaurs, such as the T-Rex, or a previous version which was called the Raptor.

While Kahn admits he is somewhat biased with over 30 years of experience in mainframe computing, he said, “clearly, mainframes are not dead.”

“The mainframe has gone through many evolutions since it was developed in the 1960s,” Kahn said. The forward-thinking enhancements of the technology, such as the on-demand computing feature on the z990, have only enhanced the server system.

Renfer said he would prefer not to speculate on future mainframe servers, but said IBM was always investing in the platform.

The company also announced on Tuesday that IBM Global Services has begun deployment of the z990 in its On Demand Data Centres.

Customers have the option of turning processors on and off as the demand for processing rises and falls, IBM said. The ability to add server engines during peak hours also means that customers only pay for the processing in use.

“Clearly it is something that our customers are asking for,” Renfer said.

Some models of the z990, including A08 and B16 will be available on June 16. Models C24 and D32 will be available on Oct. 31, 2003, while other models, including the on/off functionality, will not be available until September 2003. Pricing for the mainframes varies according to the model.

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