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By | Timothy Prickett Morgan 12th July 2011 04:01

IBM heaves new System z minis at mainframe shops

Hooking fat Xeon blades into 'system of systems'

In the hope of continuing the System z upgrade boom that started last summer, Big Blue has rounded out its lineup with a midrange – what IBM calls "Business Class" – mainframe, the System zEnterprise 114.

The machine is more or less what the rumors of two weeks ago hinted it would be – although it turns out there are two models, not one, and it's not called the z110 since it has 14 total engines in the box, including spares, not 10 as we expected. The new mini mainframe does have 10 user-accessible engines in the larger model, which is what we expected.

Like other mainframes large and small (small being a relative term) for the past several years, the new zEnterprise 114 BC server has different microcode settings to allow the cores in its quad-core z11 processors to perform different functions. The Central Processors, or CPs, are the ones that can be loaded with IBM's z/OS, z/VM, or z/VSE operating systems to run COBOL and Java applications, DB2 databases, CICS transaction monitors, VSAM file systems, and so on.

The engines in the frame can also be configured as Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) engines for running Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and can also be configured as Integrated Coupling Facilities (ICFs) for hooking multiple machines into a Parallel Sysplex cluster, System Assist Processors (SAPs) for running I/O, System z Application Assist Processors (zAAPs) for accelerating Java and XML workloads, and System z Integrated Information Processors (zIIPs) for goosing DB2 databases.

The zIIPs and zAAPs take a z11 processor core and turn it into an offload engine, which IBM often calls a specialty engine to distinguish it from the normal CP engines. There are only two things that are special about these specialty engines: they are restricted to certain kinds of work and they cost a lot less than a standard mainframe engine and software stack for supporting Linux operating systems, Java and XML workloads, or DB2 databases.

Double your pleasure

There are two different variants of the zEnterprise 114 BC mini mainframe being announced by IBM on Tuesday. The z114 BC M05 has a maximum of five z11 standard cores onto which end users can deploy IBM's operating systems, which can be configured as CPs, IFLs, or ICFs. the machine also has two engines configured as SAPs (for seven cores total in the chassis). Customers can deploy two of the five main engines as zIIPs or zAAPs.

The z114 BC M05 comes with 8GB of user-addressable memory, plus 8GB that is taken for the hardware system area (HSA) for IBM systems software to use exclusively as a scratchpad for I/O configuration data. The system supports a maximum of 128GB, with 120GB being usable by operating systems and applications.

Like the high-end System zEnterprise 196 machine launched last July, the z114 BC machines have a data protection scheme called Redundant Array of Independent Memory, which is similar in concept to the RAID data protection used on disk arrays, but only applied to main memory. The zEnterprise machines are the first IBM machines to offer this feature, and it could very well be in Power7+ or Power8 machines as well as future Xeon servers at some point in the near term.

IBM zEnterprise mainframes

The onward march of IBM mainframes

The z114 BC M10 doubles up the physical cores inside the box to 14, allowing for more IFLs, ICFs, zIIPs, and zAAPs, as well as allowing for two hot spare cores that can be deployed in an emergency. The M10 machine can have only five CPs, however, so for standard mainframe workloads running on z/OS, z/VM, or z/VSE, there is no point in buying an M10 over an M05. But if you want a Linux-only mainframe, then the M10 can host Linux on ten engines. The M10 has up to 256GB of real memory, with 248GB of it accessible to operating systems and applications.

Both the z114 M05 and M10 machines support up to 240 ESCON or 128 FICON peripheral channels and from two to eight Crypto Express3 cryptographic coprocessors. The M05 can have a maximum of 56 external coupling links, while the M10 offers up to 72.

Systems of systems

The zEnterprise 114 BC boxes can also be deployed as the heart of a "system of systems" that includes BladeCenter enclosures and Power7 and Xeon blade servers all acting under the orchestration of the mainframe-based Unified Resource Manager, a protected network that is not exposed to the outside world.

This hybrid mainframe-blade setup, called the System z BladeCenter Extension, or zBX for short, has been available since last fall using Power7-based PS701 blade servers, which themselves were launched in April 2010. Starting today, the zBX will also be available with IBM's HX5 blade servers , which launched in April 2010 with Intel's "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500 processors, and which now sport the latest "Westmere-EX" Xeon E7 processors.

It's interesting that IBM is not supporting the HS22 Xeon 5600 blade servers inside the zBX setup. In any event, IBM is supporting the HX5-7873 blade, which is a two-socket server with 16 Xeon cores, on both the z196 and z114 mainframes.

The zBX setup treats the PR/SM resource manager and hypervisor on mainframe engines, the PowerVM hypervisor on Power Systems blades, and the RHEV (KVM) hypervisor on Xeon blades as firmware all under the control of the Unified Resource Manager code that runs on the mainframe and accesses these hypervisors through an internal Gigabit Ethernet network.

The Power blades can run AIX 5,3, 6.1, or 7.1 and the Xeon blades are able to support the latest Linuxes from Red Hat and SUSE, and will eventually be able to support Microsoft's Windows Server 2008. The zBX allows for four chassis of BladeCenters (across two racks) with a total of 112 single-wide blade servers to be linked to the mainframe and managed by the URM software on the mainframe.


While all of this hybrid computing is interesting, what mainframe shops care about first is how much computing capacity the zEnterprise 114 has and what it's going to cost.

The zEnterprise 196 Enterprise Class machine announced a year ago is based on a 5.2GHz, four-core CISC processor designed and fabbed by IBM in its New York mainframe stomping grounds. The z196 puts six of these four-core z11 processors onto a single system board – what IBM calls a processor book in the System z and high-end Power Systems lines.

Up to four of these books can be configured into a single system image with as many as 80 cores dedicated to running a single workload across up to 3TB of DDR3 main memory in the z196 machine. Each one of those z11 cores is rated at around 1,200 MIPS running at 5.2GHz, and a system with all 80 cores activated to run z/OS workloads can deliver an aggregate of 52,000 MIPS. IBM offers five different models of the z196 – the M15, M32, M49, M66, and M80 – with the number designating the maximum number of CPs in the setup.

The zEnterprise 114 is based on z11 processors running at 3.8GHz rather than 5.2GHz of the z196 machines. Based on past trends between the EC and BC lines, we had expected IBM to use 4.1GHz cores and deliver 980 MIPS of processing capacity per engine, and about 3,400 aggregate MIPS across five processing engines. As it turns out, the zEnterprise 114 machines use slightly slower engines and deliver only 3,100 aggregate MIPS and just under 900 MIPS per engine if they are operated in stand-alone, non-SMP mode.

That's still roughly 18 percent more oomph per engine than the System z10 BC machines that the zEnterprise 114 BC replaces, and with tweaks to development tools, IBM says that customers migrating to the newer mini mainframe can see 25 per cent performance boosts thanks to 100 new CISC instructions in the z11 engines and changes to compilers to make use of them.

Dialing for dollars

IBM is offering 130 different speed settings across the M05 and M10 machines, ranging from a low of 26 MIPS on the entry M05 to 3,100 MIPS on the largest M10. If you need more oomph than that, you'll need to upgrade to the zEnterprise 196 M15. IBM offers upgrade paths to the M15 as well as between the M05 and M10 models, and from the prior z9 BC and z10 BC machines into the zEnterprise 114 BC machines.

The entry zEnterprise 114 machine sells for $75,000, which is a bit less costly than the $100,000 price tag for the z10 BC machines announced nearly three years ago. Last year, IBM held main processor prices on the zEnterprise 196 machine steady after boosting the performance 30 per cent compared to the System z10 EC machines, which worked out to a 23 per cent improvement in bang for the buck.

The price reduction on the base zEnterprise 114 is in the same ballpark. IBM cut main memory prices on the high-end EC mainframes by 35 per cent last summer, and Doris Conti, director of System z marketing at IBM tells El Reg that the memory price cuts have been passed down to the new BC box as well.

Specialty engine prices on the zEnterprise 114 machines have also come down quite a bit. On the System z10 BC machine, you had to shell out $47,500 per core to turn it into an IFL for running Linux, but on the z114 BC, the price is now only $35,000. That's a 37.5 per cent improvement in bang for the buck for engines running Linux. (IBM also cut the prices on IFLs last summer from $75,000 on the z10 EC to $55,000 on the z196 EC, which was a 43.5 per cent improvement in raw price/performance for running Linux.)

On the new zEnterprise 114 machines, zIIPs and zAAPs cost $40,000 – a lot cheaper than the $100,000 that IBM charges for zIIP and zAAP processors on the zEnterprise 196 machines.

Software and maintenance price cuts, too

In addition to hardware price cuts, the zEnterprise 114 is also getting a rejiggered system software price list that allows customers to save anywhere from 5 to 18 per cent on their IBM software bill. This price change will kick in starting January 2012. Maintenance prices on the z114s are, MIPS for MIPS, set 5 per cent lower, too.

The zEnterprise 114 machine can run the current z/OS V1.11, V1.12, and V1.13 releases as well as the V1.8 and V1.9 releases that are on "lifecycle extension" support now, and the V1.10 release that goes into extended support on September 30 of this year. If you want to use the zBX blades, you'll have to be at z/OS V1.10 or higher.

The server will support z/VM or higher, but you'll need to be at z/VM 6.1 or higher to use the zBX cluster. z/VSE V4.2 and higher and z/TPF 1.1 are also supported on the zEnterprise 114 BC system.

You night be wondering why IBM bothers with a mini mainframe at all. The reason is simple: customers want it, and they'll pay for it so long as it offers better pricing than the high-end System z machines.

"The BC machines are about half of our volumes and a little less than half of our customers," says Conti. "It is a very strong part of our customer base." ®

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