IBM's new mainframe, the zEnterprise 196, is a leviathan

It can rule IBM blade environments -- with some upgrades, of course

Every new IBM mainframe says something about the times we live in, and today's latest mainframe release is no different. The zEnterprise system, as it is now called, has become a cross-platform management system, a sovereign of other systems.

IBM has given its new mainframe, announced today, the ability to manage Power and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe consol. The system, which can have as many as 96 processors, will support up to 114 blades with eight cores.

IBM officials characterize the zEnterprise system as their most significant change to the mainframe platform in at least two decades, and it is being coupled with some the other products to take advantage of it.

In terms of hardware capability alone, the zEnterprise 196 -- that's IBM's name for just the server itself -- includes a 5.2-GHz quad processor and up to 3TB of memory. That's double the memory of the preceding system, the z10, which had a 4.4-GHz quad processor.

IBM's mainframe has always been a system with a larger focus that seemingly shifts from release to release.

With the arrival of the z9 in 2005, for instance, the emphasis was on security and encryption, a leading concern post 9/11. The z10 in 2008, which IBM called a "business supercomputer," moved from a single core to quad processor and was aimed at CPU-intensive applications and server consolidation. The goal there: reduce data center footprints and energy needs.

The security and energy requirements remain and, IBM, for instance, says that its latest mainframe has a 60% performance gain without using any more power than the z10. But the big concern across vendors now is for management systems that improve the utilization of all compute resources in a virtualized data center.

Brad Day, an analyst at Forrester Research, called the new system "very different from anything that has happened before," and a "real departure."

Day believes that IBM's approach is to focus on consolidation and virtualization, especially as it sees a lot of its MIPS growth coming from users who are running Linux on the mainframe.

IBM's System z mainframe revenue fell 24% in the most recent quarter; sales typically fall before release of a new system.

The latest zEnterprise system is built around an IBM-centric approach that requires IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension and a Unified Resources Manager

Whether IBM expands the mainframe's dominion to include systems from other vendors remains to be seen. But for now it sees the best approach as focusing on managing an environment that includes z/OS, Linux, AIX on the z196, Power and System X BladeCenter Systems.

Karl Freund, IBM's System z strategy and market segment manager, said that the system can deliver "tight management, and for us to deliver that management at the level of security and availability that customers demand for a mainframe, then we have to ship the right blade and test the blade in the environment."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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