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August 30, 2012

New IBM Mainframe Targets Massive Data

Nicole Hemsoth

The word mainframe doesn’t appear in tech news as frequently as it used to, but when it does, you can almost bet that it’s Big Blue behind the message.

This isn’t surprising considering mainframes have traditionally been a major mainstay for the IBM business model. However, it’s worth pointing out that this is not just about selling hardware—the services and software business connections for mammoth mainframes is a critical part of the approach as well.

With big data and cloud on the lips of almost every hardware vendor these days, IBM has taken aim at both needs with a new mainframe addition to its zEnterprise effort targeting large data sets and hybrid computing environments.

This week the company rolled out its zEnterprise EC12, which it is touting as a big data machine with its focus on scalability security and rapid processing for data-intensive enterprise workloads, including transaction processing. While the mainframe moniker might not be bandied about as often as it used to, IBM still sees plenty of incentive pushing them out, investing a reported $1 billion on R&D for the EC12.

The question is, what makes the EC12 live up to the big data label, setting it apart from the other zEnterprise systems? According to IBM, the answer lies in capacity. The claim that the “superscalar” design is what gives it an edge, backed by the horsepower of 120 of its 6-core 5.5 GHz chips that they say can carry out “78,000 millions of instructions per second.” To put this in perspective, the zEnterprise 196, which debuted a couple of years ago carried a 5.2 GHz quad-core processor.

As far as performance goes, the company says this boost, while maybe not as massive as a leap as other mainframe upgrades, still could deliver 25% more in the way of performance with some jobs getting up to a 45% performance hike.

These are the same System Z cores with the same data compression and cryptographic processors on-board but they say they’ve managed to enhance the zArchitecture approach with memory hierarchy improvements on top of that processing power, which they claim give a boost to execution processing and handling prefetch instructions. All five of the zEC12s support a total of 3 TB of real memory and beyond customer-purchased memory, they have doubled memory (32 GB for the HAS, which holds the I/O config information). The key to this system lies in the company’s flash addition. Called Flash Express, this could top users out with a max capacity of 6.4 TB for big data workloads.

The company says that this newest addition to the zEnterprise family sports a hybrid computing approach to design, which they claim will let users manage workloads across multiple platforms. They also state that their new 5.5 GHz processors can boost performance “and cross platform virtualization solutions to help address server sprawl.” Additionally, EC12 has its own pattern recognition-based analytics tools for monitoring system health in addition to allowing options to tweak options based on the physical conditions of the machines (those related to non-raised floors, overhead I/O and power, and numerous disaster recovery options).

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