IBM revamps mainframe for cloud, launches zEnterprise EC12

According to IBM, the new mainframe can deliver 25 percent more performance and 50 percent more capacity with the same energy footprint as its predecessor, which started at $1 million.

IBM on Tuesday launched the zEnterprise EC12 mainframe, which serves as a blueprint for the evolution of Big Blue's 48-year-old high-end system, with security, solid state storage enhancements, built-in analytics and the ability to be installed in a data center without a raised floor.

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According to IBM, the new mainframe can deliver 25 percent more performance and 50 percent more capacity with the same energy footprint as its predecessor, which was pitched as a data center consolidation building block. The price of the new mainframe is consistent with its predecessor z196 , which starts at $1 million or so.

Among the key features:

  • A cryptographic co-processor and firmware via IBM Research designed to beef up security and meet the European Union's digital signing standards. The co-processor is called Crypto Express4S, which supports numerous standards around the world.
  • Automated information technology analytics embedded to learn from internal system messages. The analytics technology, called zAware, recognizes internal message patterns and spots unusual behavior. In many respects, zAware is a first step to self-healing systems. Jeff Frey, CTO of System z mainframes at IBM, said:

We've embedded technology to make it (zEnterprise EC12) a high performance resiliency analytics device. The system swallows up data from operational images and chews on it to provide insight on whether the system is behaving normally. We're taking analytics and applying it inward. We haven't yet introduced the ability for the system to make policy driven automatic recovery processes based on what it's learning. But this is the first step.

  • Solid state technology to handle bursts of activity at peak times.
  • The ability to be installed without a raised data center floor. That feature is critical in emerging markets and allows the zEnterprise EC12 to offer more flexible layouts in a data center. Cabling and power supplies can be installed overhead.
  • Transaction memory technology. IBM said it adapted the transaction memory model from its IBM Blue Gene/Q-based "Sequoia" system at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The general idea is that EC12 can use that supercomputer technology to run applications concurrently and crunch multiple data sets. According to Frey, transaction memory technology allows a machine to create more throughput by committing memory, keeping track of all threads on a core and minimizing software interference.

IBM said it has spent more than $1 billion in research and development to enhance the mainframe, which is a staple at many large enterprises. IBM has been trying to position the mainframe as a cloud building block in key verticals such as e-commerce players and retailers.

Specifically, IBM is aiming the mainframe at the "hybrid cloud," which combines both internal systems and private and public clouds. The zEnterprise EC12 connects into IBM's Power7 and System x servers to distribute computing power as one virtualized system.

"The mainframe is a good foundation for cloud delivery because it has all the base characteristics such as efficient consolidation, virtualization and the ability to host multiple tenants," said Frey. As a result, large enterprises can deliver cloud services internally, he added.

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