'Affordable' mainframe on offer for £56,000

IBM's latest zSeries system lowers the price base for true mainframe system in a bid to attract new customers

IBM is attempting to boost the mainframe's appeal in markets like healthcare and in developing countries, especially China, with the System z9 Business Class (BC) mainframe.

Launched on Thursday, the z9 is priced at around $100,000 in the US, and will sell for around £56,000 in the UK.

The company is aiming to capitalise on the growing demand for secure systems in markets like healthcare, and is trumpeting the reputation of IBM mainframes as "the world's most secure commercially available mainframe computers".

IBM mainframes based around the z/OS — in the past better known as MVS — have proved popular in markets in the Far East and particularly in Japan. Now IBM is aggressively targeting China. In a parallel announcement on Tuesday the company said it is building a new mainframe lab in Shanghai that will develop software for System z machines.

The z9 BC and its big brother, the z9 Enterprise Class (EC), will be the first IBM systems to use the z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), a "specialty engine" that will run database workloads which IBM promises will free up general computing capacity, and help lower costs for BI, ERP and CRM workloads.

"IBM will not impose software charges on zIIP capacity [because] the zIIP effectively better enables data to be centralised on the mainframe," the company said. Traditionally, companies have kept databases, and especially applications, on distributed systems.

A number of issues, especially increased security requirements, are persuading companies to consolidate on mainframes — where data can be managed more easily and kept more secure. So far cost has been one of the biggest barriers holding mainframes back, IBM argues.

IBM cited Gartner research which found that "some 28.2 percent of companies polled said they would be transitioning databases on to the z/OS platform — and a 'large percentage' of these customers are moving from Windows to z/OS".

IBM is hoping that a revamped software licensing structure, and the new price point, will persuade more companies that far from being a dinosaur, the mainframe could be an affordable alternative.

However, IBM's claims in its press release for the new zSeries system that it is "designed with small and medium-sized businesses in mind" may be overstating the case a little, and certainly extends the definition of a small business. Not too many small business can afford to spend £56,000 on a "specialty engine".