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A Mainframe for the Masses

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:26 PM


The IBM mainframe—often envisioned as a room-sized business-computing system weighing tons and requiring ponderous resources—has been steadily undergoing a Renaissance in recent years. Today, the architecture powering the mainframe is within the grasp of companies both large and small, and businesses spanning virtually every industry are beginning to take notice.

The zEnterprise 114 (z114), announced in July, is IBM’s most recent foray into entry-level mainframe business computing. This successor to the System z10 Business Class (BC) system and little brother of the zEnterprise 196 (z196) brings this architecture to customers seeking a price point below $100,000. Indeed, with a starting price of $75,000 for the most streamlined configuration, the z114 features the lowest entry-level price for any mainframe.

Uncompromising Capabilities
Make no mistake, however. Even though the entry price is lower, the z114 is nevertheless a mainframe-caliber system that’s just as capable as its bigger counterparts when it comes to workload processing, security and reliability.

“One of the things we spent a lot of time focusing on here was bringing the whole zEnterprise architecture down into a more consumable and cost-effective package for the mid-size business,” says John Birtles, IBM director of System z product portfolio management. “I’ve had a number of people ask me questions regarding the z114 release, saying: ‘zEnterprise is just for the high end customer; what do the lower-end or midrange customers get?’ The answer is: They get everything the high-end customer gets, with the only real difference being the scalability factor. The z114 is somewhat constrained when it comes to future growth compared to its much larger z196 brother, for example, but the architecture nuts and bolts are still all there. We’ve also provided an upgrade path into the z196 for those clients that eventually outgrow the capabilities and capacity of the entry system. ”

That’s not to say scalability and increased capacity aren’t available on the z114. The new system benefits from the same flexible, modular processor configurations employed on all IBM mainframes. In the case of the z114, this means customers can order the system with one or two processor drawer configurations. The z114 M05 hardware model, for example, comes with five configurable cores, and can be upgraded to a z114 M10 model when necessary. Access to the rest of the zEnterprise portfolio and its exciting new capabilities are also supported. Additionally, as with any zEnterprise environment or configuration, z114 clients can deploy zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) to enable the same hybrid computing solutions also available for the larger z196 systems.

“Allowing customers to pay as they grow was something we specifically paid close attention to when developing the z114,” says Birtles. “Even though it’s a smaller machine in the path than the higher-end systems, it was still based on an architecture that includes all the same infrastructure regardless of the size of the machine being enabled. This modular approach allows customers to build up in stages.”

Targeting Old and New Customers Alike
While the z114 is generally targeted to new customers in the entry-level market, it’s also appealing to established mainframe customers who run legacy processes, such as virtual storage extended (z/VSE) and z/OS workloads. For them, upgrading their mainframe environments while taking advantage of the lower hardware, software and service price point of the z114 is particularly appealing.

“Our desire was to lower the cost of entry, so we could make the mainframe more accessible to a wider range of smaller and growing businesses with a more compelling acquisition case, while continuing to serve the needs of our existing clients through reduced operational costs and a host of new hybrid capabilities,” says Birtles. “This system has a lot to offer for both existing and potential new customers.”

According to Birtles, new mainframe customers have been split into two camps, with half coming to the system for z/OS capabilities—particularly for its data serving characteristics—while the other half leverages the mainframe’s ability to host and consolidate Linux partitions and workloads. Further, of the customers running z/OS, half of those run Linux as well. So, clearly, running Linux on the mainframe is an important draw, but there’s considerable room for old school System z workloads as well.

Broad Appeal
While the mainframe, in general, has been making headlines for consecutive quarters of growth and inroads into emerging markets and economies around the globe, the z114 has so far appealed to both growth markets and major markets alike, regardless of industry.

“With the z114, we’re finding there’s an industry correlation between its customers and the higher-end mainframe customers as well,” says Birtles. “It appeals to smaller-tier financial institutions and insurance, for example, which are traditional mainframe strengths. A few other areas we’ve found that are particularly interested in the z114 can be seen in the public sector—federal, state and local government, universities, school boards, healthcare and the like. We’re also seeing retail businesses looking to leverage the z114 to run local distribution centers. Others will use it as a standalone coupling facility in a clustered Sysplex environment, as an attractive application-development machine, or as a pure consolidation vehicle for workloads like Oracle. It’s a very versatile machine.”