IBM prepares to ship superfast mainframe

IBM is preparing to ship a mainframe with the world's highest specified clockspeed for a processor, capable of executing up to 50 billion instructions per second

IBM announced today that it will ship its new zEnterprise mainframe on September 10th..

IBM unveiled the mainframes in July, saying that a key feature of the design is the 5.2GHz z196 processor. Each mainframe contains a core server - the zEnterprise 196 - that contains 96 processors, each of which is a four-core 45nm chip containing 1.4bn transistors on a 512 mm2 die. The new chips are the result of a three-year, $1.5bn collaborative program between several IBM labs worldwide. The mainframes can execute over 50bn instructions per second and process 60 percent more work for the same amount of energy as current IBM mainframes in the market, such as the z10 series, the company says.

IBM told ZDNet UK on Friday that the z196 ran at the fastest specified clockspeed of any mainstream processor, and that the 96-processor core consumes under 1.2 kilowatts.

The mainframes are expected to go to high-level financial clients, among others, and have been designed to help process massive datasets in parallel, according to IBM. "Financial institutions are doing many more transactions, but they also want to do more processing on those, whether it's checking for fraud or offering more services to their customers, and that's driving more and more compute power around those transactions," said Charles Webb, an IBM fellow in its systems processor design division, in a statement.

The mainframe can also be integrated with an IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension. This allows operators to manage a set of IBM blade servers like mainframe resources, but they can also be used to run non-mainframe-specific workloads.

"It is a very impressive accomplishment - achieving this kind of speed on a microprocessor, coming on top of what they did with the z10 [series] ... enables IBM to make this a platform for things like compute-intensive workloads," Gartner vice president and analyst Mike Chuba told ZDNet UK on Friday.

Chuba anticipates major uptake of the new mainframes by some of IBM's key "A-list" clients: "If you look at the worldwide population of IBM mainframe users, it's probably in the ballpark of 8000-10,000 users worldwide, but those users, many of them would be considered your A-list of accounts ... they're Fortune 200 accounts, large banks, large retailers and major government entities."

However, with a starting price of $1 million for the basic model of the zEnterprise, the mainframes will only be suitable for the large enterprises, according to Chuba, with the key performance benefit coming from the economies of scale that a mainframe grants: " If you turn the clock back 25 years ago, the datacentre would be the mainframe - it would consume 85 percent of the space, but today it consumes about 5 percent of the floorspace, so its efficient from a space perspective and from a power and cooling perspective".


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