IT Management

Since the July 22 announcement of the zEnterprise 196, the new mainframe has already been discussed, analyzed, dissected, and reflected upon from every angle—well, most angles. There was plenty of indisputable detail in the announcement letters. The system offers 96 cores (80 available to the user), running at an impressive 5.2 GHz and delivering up to a 60 percent improvement in performance per core; it provides double the z10’s memory up to 3TB, and contains 100 new machine code instructions. There was also some fascinating “watch this space” technology announced, such as the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) and the zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager.

These latter products lay the groundwork for the mainframe’s emerging role as a consolidation platform for complex data centers and as a next-generation hypervisor and policy manager for heterogeneous environments, including POWER7 and System x. These multi-platform functions have defined the z196 as the first in a new generation of mainframes, and the months and years ahead will see IBM and ISVs rolling out new products to enhance and extend these capabilities.

In the meantime, users’ immediate focus will be on the cost of the z196. As always, the most visible and easily demonstrable cost benefits will come from new workloads and specialty processors. To assess the cost per MIPS (or per MSU) of traditional workloads takes a little more analysis, as these costs can vary significantly from one user to the next (particularly in the absence of a price list). While launching the new range, System z marketing vice president Karl Freund said the pricing per mainframe engine for the z196 would be exactly the same as it was on the System z10, which suggests a very significant reduction in cost per MIPS. Early indications are that this claim may be somewhat over-optimistic, but time will tell as we gather more information from users’ individual deals.

What will make a substantial cost difference, particularly for larger users, is the new Advanced Workload License Charge (AWLC). Among other things, AWLC adds pricing tiers for all MLC products. This means software prices will continue to decline around 16,000 MIPS, compared with the existing Variable Workload License Charge (VWLC) scheme where the lowest prices were at the 7,000 MIPS level (except for z/OS itself). Larger users will see this change as a genuine attempt to correct an anomaly that has been causing serious concern for some time.

Legal Action Hanging Over IBM

Despite the long-term potential of the z196, IBM will need to work fast to turn mainframe revenues around, following a significant dip this year (probably in anticipation of the new system). What might make this upturn harder to achieve is the mounting legal interest in IBM’s practices around its mainframe technology.

Only days after the unveiling of the new processors, it was revealed that the European Commission (EC) has initiated formal anti-trust investigations against IBM concerning two cases of alleged infringements of European Union rules. These reported violations concern the tying of the z/OS operating system to the hardware as a way of keeping emulator vendors out of the market and restricting the availability of spare parts to third-party maintenance companies. The first of these actions is being driven by separate complaints from T3 Technologies and TurboHercules, both which argue that IBM is undermining their ability to offer mainframe applications on non-IBM hardware. For its part, IBM claims that T3 partner Microsoft is behind the complaints, and that it shouldn’t be forced to open up its intellectual property to competitors who had no part in the initial investment.

Meanwhile, NEON Enterprise Software has been granted an early court hearing by the Texas district court, which has moved the ISV’s anti-trust hearing forward to June 2011. 

Around the Vendors

CA Technologies announced a new release of CA XCOM, reportedly offering up to 40 percent performance improvements on z/OS file transfers, support for CA MSM, which can deliver an 85 percent savings in XCOM installation and maintenance time, and enhanced health check features.

While confirming full support for the z196, EMC announced a range of products to help mainframe users take advantage of private clouds. These include EMC Solutions Enabler Support of Linux on System z, which supports virtual provisioning and virtual Logical Unit Number (LUN) migrations for multiple Linux images running on a System z; and EMC z/OS Migrator, which helps avoid application downtime and maintain disaster recovery readiness during technology refreshes through non-disruptive data migration.

Demonstrating that mainframe management is still at the bleeding-edge of consumer technology,

William Data Systems announced a version of its ZEN network monitoring software for the Apple iPad. According to the vendor, in the future, the AJAX/XML-based client for monitoring z/OS network performance will be easily ported to other platforms such as BlackBerry and iPhone.