Dan's Take

The Mainframe Is Dead? Don't Tell IBM

Big Blue's newest System z monster shows the industry isn't all x86.

How many times have you heard that the mainframe is dead, and industry standard x86 systems now rule? IBM doesn't agree with this view, and demonstrates it by launching new, more powerful System z models. Each time a new z model is launched the bar's raised a bit higher. IBM just launched the new z13; here's some of the marketingspeak:

The premier data and transaction engine for the mobile generation: Lightning fast response times, unprecedented performance, availability and security protection.

The in-transaction analytics system for right-time insights: Industry leading portfolio of analytics tooling and accelerator technologies, mega memory and intelligent I/O capabilities.

The trusted cloud platform that transforms the economics of IT: Highly secure and reliable enterprise grade Linux platform with new KVM hypervisor and dynamic multi-threading technology.

Quick Review of the IBM z13
Here are a few details about this new mainframe:

  • The system supports up to 141 5 GHz processor cores
  • Up to 10TB of memory can be installed
  • Up to 320 I/O channels can be installed
  • The system can host up to 8,000 virtual machines using the standard KVM hypervisor

IBM touts the system as being the best platform for cloud computing, Big Data and analytics, and executing Linux and Java workloads. It's happy to show customers the benchmarks to prove it.

A pertinent quote, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics," is attributed to Mark Twain. Had IBM known about system benchmarks, I'm sure Big Blue would've added them to the list, as well. While I'm typically skeptical of benchmarks, the performance of these new systems appears to be quite impressive.

Dan's Take: Mainframes Still Have a Place
In years past, while I was with IDC, we often conducted extensive cost-of-ownership studies to determine the relative costs of a workload or an IT solution when hosted on different platforms. Surveys would be conducted to learn the actual costs incurred by companies and then an overall cost of ownership per 100 users could be evaluated.

Often, several thousand IT executives would be queried to learn their real costs in anywhere from 75 to 300 different categories. The categories would include items such as hardware and software acquisition, as well as full-time staff equivalents needed for installation, updating, ongoing operations and even supporting end users. The results were usually pretty clear.

The more distributed a computing solution was; that is, the more devices -- including systems, storage, networking and power equipment -- that were involved, the higher the total cost was to the company being surveyed. Why? The complexity of the environment required a larger number and type of expertise be available, and that usually also meant that the company needed more staff.

We also learned that hardware and software, when combined, was typically less than 20 percent of the total five-year costs. Staffing, networking and power costs typically were significantly higher.

It's very likely true that companies relying on Linux, Java, and databases to support their cloud computing, analytical, and transactional workloads would experience higher levels of performance at a lower overall cost if they deployed a small number of IBM z13 systems, rather than a larger number of any vendor's industry standard x86 offerings to do the same work.

Is the mainframe dead? I don't think so. To quote Mark Twain again: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." IBM would say the same thing about its mainframes.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.


Subscribe on YouTube