IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

IBM turns to big iron again

IBM's Z13 mainframe is designed for the app age, but will it win businesses back from general-purpose hardware?

Computers connected to a mainframe

Inside the enterprise: According to IDC, the technology research firm, mainframes account for just 1.7 per cent of IT spending in the UK, and 2.4 per cent in Western Europe.

But these figures underplay the platform's importance. Among companies that use mainframes, big iron runs 60 per cent of their mission-critical applications, and 20 per cent of their open source workloads.

This suggests that, relative to the workloads they handle, mainframes are a highly economical platform. But that assumes, of course, that businesses can afford the considerable initial outlay and that they have the skills to operate and maintain them.

Despite positive research numbers which IBM, in particular, does wheel out from time to time mainframes are no longer the workhorses of computing they once were.

Although IBM still makes them, rival manufacturers have switched to other architectures, especially (Intel) x86, and the concept of connecting up large numbers of small servers, rather than running one, very large, machine. That's exactly how Google, and plenty of other cloud-based services, work.

IBM, though, has not given up the fight. In fact, it has just announced a new mainframe unit, the z13.

This, IBM says, can process a staggering 2.5bn transactions a day, carry out real-time encryption on mobile transactions, and even has built-in support for analytics, removing the need to ship data out to another server to see how the business is doing.

The company is touting the z13 as the first mainframe for the app economy, and says one z13 can handle the equivalent of 100 Cyber Mondays' worth of business.

But if this looks like an attempt by IBM to throw everything it has into the new computer record-breaking processors, encryption, and its open source analytics know how that is not far from the truth. The idea is to create a system rather than a computer.

By integrating analytics, for example, the z13 is able to carry out real-time fraud detection, as well as supporting customisation for e-commerce and m-commerce. IBM's zOS is being upgraded to support in-memory analytics, and its DB2 database will run in memory too.

Then there are the hosting and virtualisation aspects of the mainframe: the z13 can run up to 8,000 virtual servers, and IBM says the new machine is more energy efficient than either x86 hardware or older mainframes.

The total cost of ownership, IBM predicts, will be 32 per cent lower than an x86-based private cloud and a staggering 60 per cent lower than a public cloud although real-world performance will vary, depending on firms' actual workloads.

But people who work with mainframes, at least, are positive about the new system. "The mainframe of today is very different to the mainframe that launched 51 years ago," says Derek Britton, a director at Microfocus. "It consumes less power, has less of an environmental impact, and a lower total cost of ownership there is a huge opportunity here for businesses to use the mainframe to deliver more business value."

IBM, for its part, recently sold its low-end x86 arm to Lenovo. So it will need the new mainframe to shore up declining hardware revenues; the company is set to release its fourth quarter earnings on 20 January.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

Featured Resources

Accelerating AI modernisation with data infrastructure

Generate business value from your AI initiatives

Free Download

Recommendations for managing AI risks

Integrate your external AI tool findings into your broader security programs

Free Download

Modernise your legacy databases in the cloud

An introduction to cloud databases

Free Download

Powering through to innovation

IT agility drive digital transformation

Free Download

Recommended

IT Pro News In Review: UK 4 day week, ransomware payment rise, IBM cut ties with Russia
Business operations

IT Pro News In Review: UK 4 day week, ransomware payment rise, IBM cut ties with Russia

10 Jun 2022
IBM bolsters cyber security offerings with Randori acquisition
mergers and acquisitions

IBM bolsters cyber security offerings with Randori acquisition

7 Jun 2022
IBM's new z16 mainframe brings two industry-firsts and quantum-proof data encryption
Hardware

IBM's new z16 mainframe brings two industry-firsts and quantum-proof data encryption

5 Apr 2022
Software-defined storage for dummies
Whitepaper

Software-defined storage for dummies

1 Apr 2022

Most Popular

Former Uber security chief to face fraud charges over hack coverup
data breaches

Former Uber security chief to face fraud charges over hack coverup

29 Jun 2022
Macmillan Publishers hit by apparent cyber attack as systems are forced offline
Security

Macmillan Publishers hit by apparent cyber attack as systems are forced offline

30 Jun 2022
FCC commissioner urges Apple and Google to remove TikTok from app stores
data protection

FCC commissioner urges Apple and Google to remove TikTok from app stores

29 Jun 2022