Dan's Take

IBM Unveils a New Family of Mainframes

The company wants to keep its cash cow strong while it branches out into new areas.

IBM just launched the IBM z14, a new family of mainframe processors, with bold claims: "It enables the ultimate protection for your data and simplifies compliance to regulations. With z14, you can apply machine learning to your most valuable data to create deeper insights. And z14 is designed to be open and connected in the cloud, enabling massive transaction scale of high volume encrypted workloads at low cost." The key features IBM would like us all to remember are:

  • The Z14,  in its largest configuration, can support 12 billion transactions per day.
  • The Z14 offers onboard hardware designed to support data encryption. The company claims that this facility is 18 times faster than previous systems. It points out that this hardware-assisted encryption technology makes it possible for enterprises to encrypt all data, both at rest (in the form of database data) and in motion (in the form of transactions), that the system is processing.
  • The Z14 offers 35 percent more total capacity and three times more memory than previous generations.
  • The increased levels of performance and capacity can be used to support blockchain transactions and machine learning.
  • Another key change is a new pricing model that "…can support multiple price metrics for new workloads – without impacting the cost of existing workloads. In addition to traditional capacity-based metrics, this container-based pricing can support business-based metrics such as per payment." This new pricing model makes it possible for companies to negotiate pricing terms that work well for new applications.
Dan's Take: The Mainframe Isn't Dead Yet
If we stop to consider what IBM has been doing in the last few years, we see that the company exited both the PC and x86-based server businesses by selling them to Lenovo.

It then started a process to outsource the creation of its Power-architecture chips to focus its full attention on discovering and exploiting opportunities for its AI supercomputer Watson, cloud-computing service offerings and tools for the creation and support of Internet of Things applications.

The company knew that its mainframe business was under attack from all sides, that suppliers such as COBOL-IT, Heirloom Computing, and TmaxSoft are doing their best to syphon off mainframe workloads and re-host them on Linux-based systems or in the cloud.

One way to combat these companies is to point out how secure mainframes are, how fast they can process business transactions and how reliable they are as an enterprise mainstay. The Z14 announcement, of course, touches on all these themes.

My key takeaway is that IBM believes that maintaining its profitable mainframe business is key to the company's survival while it focuses its attention on the more speculative businesses of applying Watson to everything in sight and competing with Amazon, Microsoft and other key cloud service providers for enterprise cloud deployments.

The technology found in the Z14 is impressive, and I'm sure that current mainframe users will find the new pricing model attractive. Will this new system stop the steady drip, drip, drip of workloads moving elsewhere? That isn't clear.

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.

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