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IBM is introducing a new model of its z9 mainframe today in China to target midsized businesses that can't afford its biggest iron.

For more information:

Will the data center feel the effects of the z9?

IBM system z9 and information integration: What's the connection?

The z9 Business Class is considered an update to its predecessor, the z890, and IBM boasts it has 75% more processing power.

Some details:

  • It can handle up to seven processors, compared to four for the z890.
  • It has double the memory, up to 64 GB per server.
  • It features 26 millions of instructions per second (MIPS) in a base model, upgradeable to more than 400 MIPS.

    IBM rolled out its larger z9-109, now called z9 Enterprise Class, last summer as an upgrade to its predecessor, the z990.But the price tag on that monster starts around $1 million. That is well over the budget of smaller companies that want the benefits the z9 provides but don't have the size to justify it.

    The price for the z9 Business Class starts at $100,000.

    "It is definitely a small/medium machine compared to a large enterprise machine," said Jim Porell, IBM's chief architect for mainframe software.

    The z9 Business Class and Enterprise Class will also be the first to offer a high-speed data processor to help the mainframes process database applications. Called the zIIP, which stands for z Integrated Information Processor, it follows previous processors that IBM has rolled out, the zAAP and IFL, which help process Java and Linux applications, respectively.

    Each specialty processor is individually priced at $95,000 on the z9 Business Class. The price on z9 Enterprise Class will remain $125,000 for each processor.

    Any mainframe news inevitably includes talk about whether mainframes will survive, or if the so-called x86 servers, lower end machines, will upend them.

    According to analyst Joe Clabby, president of Yarmouth, Maine-based Clabby Analytics, this chatter has been going on for decades. In the 1980s, some thought minicomputers would take over mainframes, he said. In the 1990s, and somewhat still today, it was whether company employees would still have the COBOL programming language skills to operate the mainframes.

    "Now the big thing is all these PC servers are going to erode the mainframe," Clabby said. "And guess what? None of it is happening. The mainframe is growing like crazy."

    Mark Shackelford is director of information services at Fort Smith, Ark.-based Baldor Electric Co., which makes electric motors, drives and generators. Its data center is on the z990, with the company considering an upgrade to the z9 Enterprise Class.

    "We run our whole entire enterprise on the z," he said, adding that there hasn't been a failure since 1997. "It has high availability and takes very few people to have to maintain the environment."

    Revenue from the System z, however, has seen a hiccup in the last year or so. Following two years of growth in most of 2003 and 2004, IBM saw a slump last year, which it attributed to customers waiting for the z9.

    Mainframe revenues did rebound during the last quarter of 2005 but decreased again the first quarter of this year, by 6%. During the same quarter, its total delivery of System z computing power, measured in MIPS, increased 22%, mainly due to its z9 pushing almost twice the MIPS as its predecessor, the z990.

    Porell said the midrange z9 Business Class will help sales, as will the unveiling of the package with processors for database crunching, and Java and Linux applications.

    Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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