IBM readies high-end mainframe

IBM Corp. is set to unveil an update to its high-end z990 mainframe that analysts say will enhance the system’s reliability and security and bring as much as a 40 percent performance boost to the box that is aimed at corporate users running very large database and transactional systems.

The official announcement is expected at an IBM event in New York Tuesday that is being hosted by Bill Zeitler, senior vice president and group executive of IBM’s systems group.

An IBM spokesman declined to comment, except to say that the event is “bigger than the mainframe.”

Industry observers expect the event to focus on IBM’s larger on-demand and virtualization strategy, where the mainframe will play a key role.

“IBM continues to try to make the mainframe the centre of the on-demand data centre and they’re going to enhance the things they think are required in that area: security and availability, plus providing more flexibility,” says John Phelps, an analyst at Gartner. “Their challenge is to be able to enhance it such that it can draw in other platforms and work with them,” he says.

Analysts also expect the new machines to be bigger and faster. The system will be built on engines running at 600 MIPS, analysts say. The z990 has engines running at about 450 MIPS.

In addition, while the new system isn’t expected to have more processors, end users will be able to allocate more of them to workloads so that the system can scale up to a 38-way machine. The z990 scales to a 32-way configuration because a portion of the processors is allocated strictly for spares or system-assist functions.

During a conference call with analysts following the release of IBM’s second quarter financial results this week, IBM CFO Mark Loughridge said that a new zSeries will be announced, “with availability in September.” He said that integration, security and workload management features will be enhanced in the new mainframe.

After double-digit growth in 2004, zSeries revenue has taken a hit. Revenue declined 24 percent during the second quarter, compared to the same quarter a year ago, due in large part to customers awaiting the new product announcement, Loughridge said.

At the same time, workloads running on the mainframe are expanding. “About 60 percent to 70 percent of our revenue is associated with new workloads, particularly Linux, enterprise applications and WebSphere,” Loughridge said.

Joe Poole, technical director at Boscov’s department stores in Reading, Pa., runs Linux instances on a z900, and is planning to upgrade to a z990 this year.

If the new zSeries is available in September, Boscov’s may get that machine rather than the z990, Poole says. The most interesting aspect of the new mainframe is the faster processor, Poole says.

“Most of the software we license … is by CPU, not by speed,” says Poole. “The faster the chip, the more we benefit. If the speed increases by a third, that means we can put more work on the z/VM side and run even more Linux instances.”

IBM also is expected to put the first touches to its new network-attached storage (NAS) strategy, which it initiated in April when it signed a deal with Network Appliance to resell and rebrand NetApp file servers.

The company is expected to announce the new IBM TotalStorage N3700 NAS system. The N3700 is a rebranded Network Appliance FAS270 Series file server — a midrange system with up to 8T bytes of capacity and Fibre Channel capability for connection to storage-area networks as well as Gigabit Ethernet LANs. The system is expected to be available in August. Pricing has not been determined, sources say.

IBM also is expected to announce that it will double the cache to 8G-byte per controller on its TotalStorage DS4800 array and support 4G bit/sec Fibre Channel switching technology.

— Senior Editor Deni Connor contributed to this report.