Just recently IBM unveiled two miniaturized mainframe models, dubbed skinny mainframes,that are easier to deploy in a public or private cloud facility than their more traditional, much bulkier predecessors. Relying on all their design tricks, IBM engineers managed to pack each machine into a standard 19-inch rack with space to spare, which can be used for additional components.
The first new mainframe introduced last week, also in a 19-inch rack, is the Z14 model ZR1. You can expect subsequent models to increment the model numbering. The second new machine is the LinuxONE Rockhopper II, also in a 19-inch rack.
In the past, about a year after IBM introduced a new mainframe, say the z10, it was introduced what it called a Business Class (BC) version. The BC machines were less richly configured, less expandable but delivered comparable performance with lower capacity and a distinctly lower price.
In a Q&A analyst session, IBM insisted the new machines would be priced noticeably lower, as were the BC-class machines of the past. These are not comparable to the old BC machines. Instead, they are intended to attract a new group of users who face new challenges. As such, they come cloud-ready. The 19-inch industry standard, single-frame design is intended for easy placement into existing cloud data centers alongside other components and private cloud environments.
The company, said Ross Mauri, General Manager IBM Z, is targeting the new machines toward clients seeking robust security with pervasive encryption, cloud capabilities and powerful analytics through machine learning. Not only, he continued, does this increase security and capability in on-premises and hybrid cloud environments for clients, IBM will also deploy the new systems in IBM public cloud data centers as the company focuses on enhancing security and performance for increasingly intensive data loads.
In terms of security, the new machines will be hard to beat. IBM reports the new machines are capable of processing over 850 million fully encrypted transactions a day on a single system. Along the same lines, the new mainframes do not require special space, cooling or energy. They do, however, still provide IBM’s pervasive encryption and Secure Service Container technology, which secures data serving at a massive scale.
Ross continued: The new IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE offerings also bring significant increases in capacity, performance, memory and cache across nearly all aspects of the system. A complete system redesign delivers this capacity growth in 40 percent less space and is standardized to be deployed in any data center. The z14 ZR1 can be the foundation for an IBM Cloud Private solution, creating a data-center-in-a-box by co-locating storage, networking and other elements in the same physical frame as the mainframe server. This is where you can utilize that extra space, which was included in the 19-inch rack.
The LinuxONE Rockhopper II can also accommodate a Docker-certified infrastructure for Docker EE with integrated management and scale tested up to 330,000 Docker containers—allowing developers to build high-performance applications and embrace a micro-services architecture.
The 19-inch rack, however, comes with tradeoffs, notes Timothy Green writing in The Motley Fool. "Yes, it takes up 40 percent less floor space than the full-size Z14, but accommodates only 30 processor cores, far below the 170 cores supported by a full size Z14, , which fills a 24-inch rack. Both new systems can handle around 850 million fully encrypted transactions per day, a fraction of the Z14’s full capacity. But not every company needs the full performance and capacity of the traditional mainframe. For companies that don’t need the full power of a Z14 mainframe," notes Green, or that have previously balked at the high price or massive footprint of full mainframe systems, these smaller mainframes may be just what it takes to bring them to the Z. Now IBM needs to come through with the advantageous pricing they insisted they would offer.
The new skinny mainframe is just the latest in IBM’s continuing efforts to keep the mainframe relevant. It began over a decade ago with porting Linux to the mainframe. It continued with Hadoop, blockchain, and containers. Machine learning and deep learning are coming right along. The only question I have is when will IBM engineers figure out how to put quantum computing on the Z and squeeze it into customers’ public or private cloud environments.