IBM zEnterprise 114: Hot or not?

Will the zEnterprise 114 appeal to IT pros in mainframe shops that run new workloads or hard-core mainframe traditionalists?

With a low price tag, scalability and support for lots of specialty engines, IBM’s new zEnterprise 114 could attract a new class of mainframe users–or at the very least, different workloads.

The zEnterprise 114 is the little brother to the zEnterprise 196 and has a lot of things going for it, according to Mike Kahn, managing director at The Clipper Group Inc., based in Rye, N.H.

For instance, it can deliver up to 3,000 MIPS with up to 14 microprocessors, 10 of which can be dedicated to specialty engines, such as the System z Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), the System z Application Assist Processor (zAAP) and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL). These specialty engines help make an economic case to run Linux, Java and XML on the mainframe rather than on open systems.

Under the right circumstances, an Oracle Financials shop, for example, could “save handsomely” by running it on the IFL, rather than on a number of x86 boxes, Kahn said.

In addition, the z11 BC supports IBM’s zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, a.k.a. zBX, bringing the mainframe’s legendary workload management capabilities to Linux, Unix and, eventually, Windows workloads. And unlike IBM’s older small mainframe offerings, the z114 isn’t “kneecapped” in terms of processor or memory support, Kahn said.

Finally, the z114 has a starting price of just $75,000, down from $100,000 for the previous generation z10 Business Class mainframe.

Same old, same old?
But while IBM emphasizes the mainframe’s new markets, it’s just as likely that the z114 will appeal to traditional mainframe customers with stable workloads, said Cal Braunstein, chairman and CEO at Robert Frances Group Inc., based in Westport, Conn.

“This smaller unit can satisfy their needs,” he said, dubbing it a “technology continuation and preservation play.”

That’s the game plan at a large midwestern insurance provider, whose CIO has mandated a gradual offloading away from the mainframe. “We’re never going to buy a bigger mainframe,” said a mainframe operator there.

By systematically offloading some mainframe workloads via outsourcing or by placing them on open systems, the insurer has essentially put a stop to egregious growth of the platform–a priority given the high software costs.

But the value of the information contained on mainframe databases has thus far prevented the firm from doing away with the platform entirely.

“We don’t grow because we get that much more business, but because everyone wants to hook their hose up to the mainframe boxes,” the operator said, also adding that demand spiked when Web servers were connected to DB2.

The Windows wildcard
Meanwhile, upcoming support for x86 blades running Windows under zBX could prove to be a real game changer and drive adoption of new zEnterprise systems, The Clipper Group’s Kahn said.

Last spring, IBM said that zBX will support select BladeCenter blades running Linux and Windows, in addition to AIX. A hybrid computing model could make sense in two situations, Kahn said.

The first is for open systems workloads with “a high data affinity connection” to the mainframe. The second is for shops whose systems management philosophy is strongly rooted in mainframe constructs. There, the ability to manage Linux, AIX and Windows from the mainframe’s Unified Resource Manager could be attractive.

Whether that model will make sense for a given enterprise data center will depend on its circumstances, Kahn said. “The only way to know if it’s a fit comes down to doing a truthful, honest total cost of ownership study, and every single one of those is different.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, news director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.


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