Jul 22 ’10

IBM’s New zEnterprise Mainframe and Its New Hybrid z/Blade Environment

by Editor in z/Journal

Typically, when IBM introduces a new mainframe (System z), the announcement is all about more capacity, faster processing, better energy utilization, and other speeds and feeds. Reporters publish the new specifications. And customers buy the new System z to add more MIPS computing capacity to meet their needs for more processing power as their businesses continue to grow. But not this year …

This year’s System z announcement is markedly different than in previous years because:

- IBM’s mainframe has several new personalities. It now performs competitively in floating point and single-thread processing—and offers outstanding business analytics processing capability.
- The new zEnterprise can now be tightly coupled with IBM’s zBX (IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension) blade server environment to create a common management environment across mainframes and blades (this new, cross-platform management and governance environment has the potential to lower operational costs by up to 62 percent!).
- New names and extensions have been introduced.

What’s In a Name?
In short, IBM’s new z announcement consists of a new System z (the IBM zEnterprise), a hybrid hardware blade cabinet/extension (the zBX), and a new management environment known as the Unified Resource Manager (also known as zManager). Figure 1 explains the family, system, and model number conventions now in use to describe the new mainframe and associated extensions/management software.

The New, Improved Mainframe: The zEnterprise
As could be expected, IBM announced that its new System z, the zEnterprise, can offer up to 40 percent better performance than its predecessor (the z10), using the same amount of energy as the z10. Further, it offers super-fast, single-thread processing, thanks to the new 5.2 GHz quad z core processor.

Other new features include:

- Up to 96 cores (one to 80 configurable for client use and the others used for system activities)
- Up to 3TB RAIM memory (This new Redundant Array of Independent Memory acts like RAID [Redundant Array of Independent Disks], ensuring that if a memory error should occur, it can be rapidly corrected.)
- More than 100 new instructions (Instruction sets allow developers to write commands directly to the processor, enabling programs to exploit processors for greater performance. Contrast this with about eight new instructions for Intel’s new Itanium chip set.)
- 1.5MB L2 cache per core, 24MB L3 cache per processor chip (significantly more cache than previous generations, allowing more data to be processed in close proximity to the processor, thus improving processing speed)
- Cryptographic enhancements (adding to IBM’s already established lead in commercial system security [IBM is the only systems vendor to have achieved EAL level 5 security certification.])
- Optional water cooling (Note that water is about 4,000 times more efficient at conducting heat away from servers than air.)

These numbers, in and of themselves, are compelling enough to warrant a capacity upgrade by the current mainframe installed base. But the new zEnterprise can also be used to run new applications because IBM:

- Significantly improved single-thread processing so a mainframe can now compete head-on with tuned distributed servers from a performance perspective
- Improved floating-point processing (often used for scientific and financial processing) so a mainframe can now competitively host these workloads
- Greatly expanded its memory on the chip—and added more main memory, making it possible to process more data in memory (The more data that can be placed in memory, the faster data can be processed. IBM’s memory expansion now enables a System z to be positioned as a huge business analytics server.)

IBM’s increase in z memory will also assist customers who are looking to use a mainframe as a Linux consolidation server. It’s no secret that mainframes offer the most advanced virtualization, provisioning, and workload balancing in the industry. But now, with the increased capacity of the new zEnterprise, coupled with the availability of more memory, the new z has become the most highly scalable Linux consolidation server on the market (some estimates show that up to 100,000 virtual machines [Linux instances] could be managed by an IBM System z). (This 100,000 number is in reference to zEnterprise overall, including Linux on System z images and Blade Virtual images. More than 300 Linux virtual servers can be hosted on a single zEnterprise server.)

And thanks to these and other improvements (especially in software tuning), IBM is now reporting major increases in processing performance for z/OS workloads; huge increases in handling CPU-intensive workloads (these may gain up to an additional 30 percent, thanks to compiler enhancements); and significantly increased database processing performance (dedicated workload optimizers yield five to 10 times improvement in complex query performance, making the mainframe an impressive business analytics server).   

And Now for Something Completely Different: A Tightly Coupled z/Blade Environment and a Firmware Manager

But there’s a lot more to the z story than improvements manifest in the new zEnterprise hardware. IBM has also announced a new hybrid zEnterprise/blade environment that tightly couples blades with mainframes. Using this hybrid environment, blades can be connected to a zEnterprise at high-speed and managed to the service levels associated with a mainframe (high-performance, advanced security, and the ability to control and manage large numbers of virtual machines within blade environments).

“In short, IBM’s new hybrid z/blade environment is really” as Jeffrey Frey, an IBM Fellow, describes it, “a new governance arrangement between the z world and the distributed systems world.” To paraphrase Frey’s description of why IBM embarked on building this hybrid environment, the logic behind this arrangement goes like this:

- System z offers the most advanced management, virtualization, security, performance, scalability, reliability, memory management, and power management facilities in the industry.
- Other servers (particularly x86-based servers) are comparatively immature when it comes to these advanced management capabilities.
- If mainframe management can be extended down to bladed servers, then the advanced mainframe management facilities could manage those servers, providing IT managers and administrators with more advanced tools (and with higher service levels) than they could hope to achieve using less mature management environments that currently run on their hardware environments. (Further, IBM can integrate and package this new governance environment for IT managers/administrators, making deployment simple.)

What IBM is attempting to do with this extended governance environment is to free up IT managers/administrators from having to manage separate infrastructure stacks across various hardware platforms. Instead, IBM wants these managers/administrators to take advantage of the advanced/automated management facilities available on zEnterprise and across its other platforms to reduce the number of manual management tasks they need to perform—and, instead, focus on workload management.  

A Closer Look: Unified Resource Manager and zBX
To better understand this new mainframe governance environment, an overview of z management may be necessary. Essentially, IBM offers three software management environments across its product portfolio:

- Tivoli—this line of management software houses the software needed for provisioning, workload balancing, orchestration, and business process management and control (as well as for numerous other high-level management activities—especially the management of services [also known as service management]);
- Systems Director is a management environment that’s largely concerned with the management of physical and virtual (logical) resources. (Note: Systems Director VMControl is a management environment designed to provide a common interface for ultimately managing virtual machines on mainframes, Power Systems, and x86 servers); and the new
- Unified Resource Manager is firmware (code delivered on zEnterprise) largely concerned with the management of the resources in zEnterprise and associated hypervisors (the code that manages virtual machines that use underlying processor resources.

What’s important to understand about these environments is that they can work together across IBM’s zEnterprise server, Power Systems, and x86 servers (System x) to create an environment where all aspects of a systems environment (firmware, physical and virtual servers, and high-level activities) can all be managed in an integrated, automated fashion using a common interface.  Taking this approach, some IT executives may be able to reduce human labor costs related to systems management by more than 62 percent.

The new zBX environment is a chassis designed to be connected to a mainframe—and optimized for high-speed communications as well as improved manageability under mainframe governance (its current connectivity is based on 10GB Ethernet). It will be rolled out later this year with support for selected IBM Power-based blades, to be followed in 2011 by IBM System x (x86) blades. But, from a design perspective, this chassis supports a 4U form factor—so the inclusion of “specialty blades” over time may prove possible (in other words, it may be possible to include other processors on blade form factors that can be managed by a mainframe). For example, a Mainframe Executive article in September/October 2008 on Hoplon Infotainment described how Hoplon uses tightly coupled cell processor front-ends to provide advanced graphical interfaces to back-end mainframe services. Such a configuration running inside a tightly coupled blade environment may be possible in the future.

Summary Observations
IBM’s zEnterprise should have strong appeal to its existing mainframe customer base, given that it allows for a 40 percent increase in performance and a 60 percent increase in capacity (allowing mainframe customers more processing headroom). But IBM’s new positioning of the mainframe as a management/governance engine is the real heart of this story. If IBM can succeed in convincing centralized and distributed systems managers to stop their infighting over which architecture is better—and, instead, focus those managers on managing higher-value workflow management and business process flow that’s more aligned with a business’ strategy—then the enterprise as a whole will be better served. IBM’s new hybrid z environment makes this possible.