Big Blue's little brother

Inside the enterprise: IBM has launched a budget mainframe. But with a $1m price tag, it may be more at home in the cloud than the data room.

IBM EC12 mainframe

In these days of BYOD and the consumerisation of IT, it is interesting to see there is still technology out there that, in the words of the beer ad, is "reassuringly expensive". And one area where that certainly applies, is the mainframe.

Industry analysts point out that the market for mainframe hardware is steadily declining, a trend that is expected to continue over the next few years.

The main beneficiaries of slower mainframe sales are x86-based servers, although a sluggish economy, and tight IT budgets, also plays their part.

In that context, IBM's decision to launch a new, lower-cost mainframe is either a sign of the times or an attempt to open the technology up to new markets.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

But, with the zEnterprise EC12, to give it its full name, costing around $1m a unit, it is still a significant purchase, even for the largest IT shops.

IBM is promoting the new big iron's security features as well as processing capabilities, and its ability to handle "big data" analytics tasks.

In some ways, IBM's move is just the latest argument in the ongoing debate over the future of IT: do we scale up, in the shape of a mainframe or supercomputer or scale out, to lots of small, cheap x86 chips.

In others, it is an attempt by Big Blue to take much of what is wrong with x86-based parallel systems or grids: physical hardware limitations; potential security weaknesses; IO and other bottlenecks; and solve them by putting them all into the type of box IBM makes because they are the type of box IBM makes.

After all, IBM would not be IBM without a mainframe product line, and the fact the company has invested more than US$1bn developing this one shows how much it matters to the vendor.

For existing mainframe customers, a new model gives reassurance that IBM remains committed to the line. The greater challenge, though, may be convincing new customers to try them out.

Advertisement - Article continues below

As industry analyst R Ray Wang, of Constellation Research, points out the $1m price tag of the EC12 limits the market to companies with revenues of $400 million or above, as most firms spend no more than five per cent of turnover on IT. This is despite the usefulness of the Z-series for solving big data problems.

An alternative market could lie with companies processing data in the cloud, or selling data (or information) as a service. These companies, Wang suggests, will have the scale and probably the revenues to benefit from the efficiency gains promised by the EC12.

"As software moves to information brokerages, people will buy streams of information," he says. This, in turn, creates a market that could suit IBM's new mainframe.

The question is not whether the EC12 is an attractive machine, but whether IBM can persuade younger developers and IT professionals to consider a mainframe solution. For many IT professionals working today, it is x86, not the mainframe, that is the comfort zone.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

Featured Resources

What you need to know about migrating to SAP S/4HANA

Factors to assess how and when to begin migration

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

Testing for compliance just became easier

How you can use technology to ensure compliance in your organisation

Download now

Best practices for implementing security awareness training

How to develop a security awareness programme that will actually change behaviour

Download now
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/cloud/33999/ibm-doubles-down-on-red-hat-independence
Cloud

IBM doubles down on Red Hat independence

10 Jul 2019

Most Popular

Visit/microsoft-windows/32066/what-to-do-if-youre-still-running-windows-7
Microsoft Windows

What to do if you're still running Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
Visit/operating-systems/25802/17-windows-10-problems-and-how-to-fix-them
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

13 Jan 2020
Visit/policy-legislation/data-governance/354496/brexit-security-talks-under-threat-after-uk-accused-of
data governance

Brexit security talks under threat after UK accused of illegally copying Schengen data

10 Jan 2020
Visit/hardware/laptops/354533/dell-xps-13-new-9300-hands-on-review-chasing-perfection
Laptops

Dell XPS 13 (New 9300) hands-on review: Chasing perfection

14 Jan 2020