IT Management

Computing At The High End of The High End

2 Pages

Paul Mercurio, Mobil Travel Guide, Park Ridge, IL, will probably be the first CIO on his block to move to the IBM z990, the new high end of IBM’s biggest mainframe line. And, if everything works as expected, Mercurio and his customers, the travelers who pound away on the company’s Website, won’t notice a thing. “I guess it gives us more headroom than we could ever anticipate,” he notes.

Mobil Travel Guide, an online publisher, runs its systems as a service client of IBM Global Services, which is putting one of the first z990 systems in its Boulder, CO, data center. Mobil Travel Guide will use a Linux virtual partition on the new mainframe, giving Mercurio boasting rights as one of the first users.

Mercurio is looking forward to the ease with which the z990 can handle variable workloads in the on-demand environment. Mobil Travel Guide’s workload, which ebbs and flows with the pace of vacation travel, experiences severe demand spikes during the year. “The z990 is designed to be more friendly to on-demand usage,” he reports. “When the company encounters a surge of demand, I can just call IBM and have extra capacity tomorrow,” he explains. The company is billed only for the capacity it actually uses, and switching capacity on and off requires only a software command.


IBM couldn’t have given its newest high-end mainframe, the z990, a better code name—T-Rex. Its namesake, supposedly the largest and most ferocious of the carnivorous dinosaurs, probably strode the earth as king, the top of the food chain. The z990 debuts as the largest, most powerful mainframe IBM has ever made. As an extension of the high end of the z900 Series, it will give IBM’s traditional big-iron customers more headroom. In addition, it also introduces capabilities that give it versatility not usually associated with this class of system.

Where Mobil Travel Guide represents a new breed of customer for the big IBM mainframes, driven by interest in capabilities such as on-demand flexibility, Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group represents core mainframe users most likely to gravitate to the new high-end machine. Farmers Insurance, with 15 million customers spread across 41 states, is a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services, a global company with operations in 60 countries.

Farmers Insurance plans to replace its six existing mainframe computers with three z990 systems as part of a consolidation of its data center with Zurich Financial’s data center. The consolidated data center will run the z990 and IBM’s WebSphere middleware to provide Web-based claims processing for the company’s agents. It will replace an old green-screen terminal system in which users worked on dumb terminals connected to the mainframe host.

The company opted for the z990 for two reasons: its substantial data processing horsepower and its ability to run new, modern software such as Linux and WebSphere, according to Larry Berger, director of technical services. Farmers Insurance also will be able to take advantage of the z990’s on-demand capabilities by temporarily adding server engines during peak periods. The z990 offers up to 32 processors in a modular design that allows the organization to boost capacity in eight processor units, called books. The base model, A08, provides one to eight processors in one book. The B16 model delivers one to 16 processors in two books. The C24 and D32 models offer one to 24 and one to 32 processors in three or four books, respectively.

The z990 is also packed with more communications channels and provides 8 to 256GB of memory in 8GB increments, 64GB per book. In addition, it provides up to 96GB of system bandwidth and up to 512 channels. Models A and B offer up to 15 logical partitions (LPARs). Models C and D offer up to 30 LPARs with three- and four-channel models offering up to 60 LPARs in the future. Overall, the z990 boasts almost a threefold improvement in capacity, a fourfold improvement in I/O subsystem capacity and network bandwidth, and a fourfold increase in virtual servers.

The modular design, combined with a new super scalar architecture, gives the z990 its on-demand flexibility. Each book ships with its full allotment of processors, which can be turned on and off as needed— you pay only for the processors you actually use. “As long as you have dormant engines, you just go to the Web and initiate the upgrade. We instantly provide you with the microcode. You can add or remove capacity in minutes,” explains Peter McCaffrey, director of zSeries product marketing.

2 Pages