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Examining the IBM z114 mainframe

In the past decade, IBM has introduced business-class (BC) machines intended to reduce mainframe total cost of acquisition  and ownership  as well as to gain entry into mid-level companies. To this end, IBM recently unveiled the zEnterprise 114;

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a small, inexpensive, entry-level BC mainframe, much like the z800s and z890s before it. This article will discuss the capabilities of the IBM z114 mainframe and what it means as well as speculation about IBM’s ultimate intentions.

An overview of the z114 mainframe
As a BC machine, the z114 is a slower, smaller version of IBM’s enterprise-class (EC) z196 processor as shown in the table below.

The table highlights some important mainframe jargon. “Compartments” are the smallest units in which engines (processors) and memory can be purchased. A compartment comes will a full complement of engines, but microcode controls how many of them are active. A z196 compartment is called a "book," while on a z114 they are "drawers." A book (or drawer) comes with extra compartments that the customer can't use. Some of them are backups in case of hardware failure, and others perform control functions within the machine.

  z114 z196
Clock speed 3.8 GHz 5.2 GHz
Processors per compartment 7 total
5 customer configurable
24 total
20 customer configurable
Maximum memory per compartment 120 GB 752 GB
Total compartments per box 2 4
Fully loaded capacity 3,100 MIPS 52,286 MIPS

You can see that the differences between the z114 and the z196 are dramatic. Despite these differences, however, IBM baked many z196 features into the z114. For instance, the z114's memory consists of IBM’s newly minted redundant array of independent memory (RAIM) designed to boost availability using the same strategy as redundant array of independent disks, or RAID, storage. The z114 mainframe also has the new instructions, processor pipeline improvements and out-of-order instruction execution found in the EC machines. Finally, the z114 includes z/Enterprise’s ability to host distributed platform blades. A z114 cabinet, besides the two drawers of mainframe equipment, can contain up to 112 PS701 Express blades, 28 Data Power or 28 HX5 analytics blades.

There are some interesting advantages to the z114 too. IBM boasts the z114’s “extreme granularity,” with its 130 different processing capacity settings. This granularity gives customers more options to match the z114 to a workload and manage capacity-based software licensing costs by allowing users more specific assignment of computing resources to each workload. In a small departure from the big-machine policy that requires an equal number of general processors (GPs) and specialty engines such as Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) and Internal Coupling Facility (ICF) in each box, the z114 comes in IFL- and ICF-only configurations. With this option, you can purchase IFLs and ICFs without buying a matching GP.

Finding a role for the IBM z114
IBM is positioning the z114 as an entry-level machine with some models starting as low as $75,000. Big Blue also offers the System Z Solutions Edition that includes the hardware, software and three years worth of maintenance at a competitive price.

In terms of data center facilities, the z114 should fit neatly into any data center. Physically, it is smaller than a z10 mainframe and can operate on raised or non-raised floors. Like the z196, an enterprise can cable it from the top or bottom of the cabinet and use high-voltage direct current power. Power, however, may not be an issue, as IBM says the box uses less electricity than a clothing dryer.

In practice, I can’t see many businesses that are already happy with distributed systems buying a z114 and jumping into z/OS. That would involve a lot of application conversion costs, not to mention building a mainframe support and development infrastructure from scratch.

Instead, with the IFL-only configuration, IBM seems to be aiming at the high-end distributed server market for shops already running zLinux. IBM designed the z114 this way hoping to coax customers with the benefits of high computing density and low energy cost. The z114 also offers further consolidation opportunities with its capability of adding PS701 Express blades, Data Power or HX5 blades into the cabinet.

That’s not to say z/OS customers won’t find the IBM z114 mainframe attractive. An ICF-only configuration provides a relatively cheap external coupling facility; a primary coordination mechanism for Parallel Sysplex mainframes. In addition, to manage costs, many enterprises run expensive software with capacity-based licenses on smaller and slower “penalty boxes,” keeping the big machines for online and mission-critical work. A suitably configured z114 would serve as a fine penalty box with the advantage of being the same hardware generation as the z196, with the new instructions and RAIM memory. Also interesting is the z114’s ability for more, relatively smaller upgrades, which gives enterprises finer control over processor turn-ups and, by extension, software costs.

This was first published in October 2011

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