Can IBM bring back the mainframe with its 'screaming' z10?

With the System z10, a new mainframe rolled out today in New York City, IBM is hoping that the mainframe platform will take giant steps in a resurgence already under way for a number of years now.

"This is a screaming machine," contended Steve Mills, who heads up the IBM Software Group, during a press and customer event in Manhattan.

Although some people might be astounded to hear this, the System z has shown greater revenue growth in recent years than any other hardware platform, including the Intel-based PC, according to Mills.

Rod Adkins, senior VP for development and manufacturing in the IBM Systems and Technology Group, told journalists and customers that IBM's z platform is designed to meet burgeoning needs for storage, virtualization, server consolidation, and energy savings that cut across myriad industries.

In health services, storage needs are being spawned by medical imaging, wherease in financial services, algorithmic computing is a big impetus, Adkins suggested.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center achieved 40 million dollars in savings by consolidating servers on to the Z platforms, he illustrated. Hong Hong Broadband achieved 50 percent reduction in power consumption through storage virtualization on the z platform.

Capable of running mainframe OS applications along with virtualized Linux and BSD Unix, the new z10 runs twice as fast as the z9, a machine now under deployment in dual redundant data centers at Nationwide Insurance, for instance.

The insurance company's z9 servers underwent zero downtime in a year's operating time, upon initially running the Nationwide.com Web site and TOPS financial application, said Nationwide's Buzz Woeckner, who called himself an "evangelist" for the System z.

Woeckner also credited the mainframe environment as spurring "innovation" at Nationwide, since developers no longer need to come up with the funding for new PC servers before starting new projects. Instead, they can develop and test the applications on the System z.

"It's been a really good ride for Nationwide. I wish there were a lot more people out there doing it," Woeckner said.

Analysts attending the event also saw considerable promise in the z10.

In emerging applications such as cloud computing -- where users' information is stored on the Internet -- the industry is now circling back to the mainframe, noted Tony Iams, an analyst at Ideas International, speaking with BetaNews during the event.

"(The System z) is the extreme of centralization," according to Iams.

During an interview with BetaNews, Jim Porell, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, attributed the speed boost in the z10 to a combination of "dramatically faster chips," greater capacity, and a tripling in cache memory size over the z9.

Porell also told BetaNews that IBM is now working with a company called Sine Nominee Associates to enable virtualized Sun Solaris applications to run on the z10 mainframe.

In an Q&A session during the event, though, Mills acknowledged tough barriers to the prospect of running Windows .NET applications on IBM z mainframes.

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