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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

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.

Advertisement - Article continues below

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

Top 5 challenges of migrating applications to the cloud

Explore how VMware Cloud on AWS helps to address common cloud migration challenges

Download now

3 reasons why now is the time to rethink your network

Changing requirements call for new solutions

Download now

All-flash buyer’s guide

Tips for evaluating Solid-State Arrays

Download now

Enabling enterprise machine and deep learning with intelligent storage

The power of AI can only be realised through efficient and performant delivery of data

Download now
Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/technology/355198/ibm-crowdsourcing-cpu-power-to-fuel-coronavirus-research
Technology

IBM crowdsources CPU power to fuel coronavirus research

2 Apr 2020
Visit/cloud/355098/ibm-dedicates-supercomputing-power-to-coronavirus-researchers
high-performance computing (HPC)

IBM dedicates supercomputing power to coronavirus research

24 Mar 2020
Visit/cloud/354599/cloud-fuels-ibms-first-quarter-of-growth-since-2018
Cloud

Cloud fuels IBM’s first quarter of growth since 2018

22 Jan 2020
Visit/cloud/33999/ibm-doubles-down-on-red-hat-independence
Cloud

IBM doubles down on Red Hat independence

10 Jul 2019

Most Popular

Visit/mobile/mobile-phones/355239/microsofts-patent-design-reveals-a-mobile-device-with-a-third-screen
Mobile Phones

Microsoft patents a mobile device with a third screen

6 Apr 2020
Visit/development/application-programming-interface-api/355192/apple-buys-dark-sky-weather-app-and-leaves
application programming interface (API)

Apple buys Dark Sky weather app and leaves Android users in the cold

1 Apr 2020
Visit/software/video-conferencing/355229/zoom-we-moved-too-fast
video conferencing

Zoom CEO admits company "moved too fast" as privacy issues mount

6 Apr 2020