NEW YORK -- This week, IBM unveiled its biggest iron yet. But will the z9's new features be enough to bring new customers to the mainframe, or will sales be limited to the existing customer base? The jury is still out.
Doubled capacity, new encryption technology and cost effectiveness are the main selling points of the new machine.
According to Mike Kahn, managing director of The Clipper Group, a Wellesley, Mass.-based analyst firm, data center pros are taking another look at the technology.
"It is indicative of the different thinking in which many enterprise IT departments are now engaged. No longer seeing the mainframe as a proprietary dinosaur whose time has passed, these executives see the mainframe as the most secure, extensible hub of their IT universe," Kahn said.
Others aren't as sure, contending that most shops will be looking at the z9 as a mainframe upgrade, rather than a migration from other platforms.
"I don't think this launch is going to rejuvenate the mainframe market," said Mike Gilbert, vice president of marketing and director of product strategy for Rockland, Md.-based Micro Focus, a company that provides software to utilize legacy mainframe code. "This was an inevitable move for IBM to meet increasing demand. For large banks and insurance customers, it's welcome news."
Data center pros agree. Bob Shannon, treasurer of the mainframe user group SHARE and z-team manager at Newton, Mass.-based Rocket Software Inc., said much of the potential draw will be for existing customers.
"If you don't currently have a mainframe it's not as simple. You would have to train people on it," Shannon said.
The secure proposition
IBM's largest capacity mainframe to date packs 18 billion transistors into one system, which is equivalent to three transistors for every person on the planet, but what is going to make IT pros buy it?
Part of the answer is new security functionalities.
"When you talk security, you need support in the system. This system has the hardest encryption in the market," said Erich Clementi, general manager, IBM Systems and Technology Group, at the z9 launch this week. "All long-term data must be encrypted. Tapes must be encrypted from the time they leave the facility to decryption."
The platform includes a built-in cryptography feature and an improved hashing algorithm (SHA-256) with support for the open Advanced Encryption Standard. IBM said these cryptography advances are designed to improve performance, speed transactions and help lower processing costs.
"The most important feature is the encryption enhancement," Shannon said. "Lost tape horror stories, HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] and SOX [Sarbanes-Oxley Act] have Corporate America taking encryption very seriously. Businesses are going to take a close look at encrypting all data, and this will give IBM a leg up on the competition."
In addition to the enhanced security, the size of the machine will offer certain benefits.
Shannon said the increased availability in the "books" (the packaging of processors, cache memory, main memory and bus adapters) will make machines more reliable.
Users running Parallel Sysplex -- a mainframe high availability technology that runs cloned applications, often on separate machines -- could potentially run the apps on one machine, according to Shannon.
Also, IBM has not raised the cost of the z9 workload engine (a dedicated processor for Linux and Java), but has increased the engine's computing capacity by 35%, allowing the mainframe to compete on cost in the Java and Linux market.
"IBM wouldn't have developed the machine [this large] if there wasn't a market for it," Shannon said. "It's bigger, faster and cheaper. Each consecutive box released has the ability to offer more bang for the buck."
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