IBM Releases a New Mainframe

In this day and age of cloud computing, this article’s headline may come as a bit of a shock to many of you. Yes, the mainframe is still a thing. And IBM’s newest is a beast of a machine, capable of over 2.5 billion transactions a day, with real-time encryption built in.

Also likely to surprise to a lot of cloudy people are the number of common, day-to-day activities that depend on the elderly gentleman of the computing world. Operating in the background, mainframes are critical to activities including banking, online and in-store shopping, purchasing car insurance, booking travel, registering for university classes, registering a motor vehicle, obtaining a driving license, filing taxes (whether with the IRS in the US,  HMRC in the UK, or Bundeszentralamt für Steuern in Germany), and yes, even talking on the phone, whether mobile or fixed.

I can see your faces now: you are thinking of something like the picture below.

Old-world mainframe computer with two operators
Old-World Mainframe

But this is no longer what a mainframe looks like. The new, snappily named z13 looks more like the back end of a Lykan HyperSport (the third most expensive car in the world) than any normal, day-to-day computer.

IBM z13 mainframe
IBM Mainframe z13

Which is only to be expected, given the power of this thing. This is a beast of a machine. But surely, in this day and age of cloud computing and ubiquitous access to unlimited processing power, the days of such beasts must be numbered (did you read the first paragraph?) The fact is, nothing (and I mean nothing commercially available) can touch the mainframe for raw compute capability. True, you cannot play Minecraft on it (well, you can on a Linux instance, but that is an aside). However, throw some numbers or data at it, and it will laugh at you, shouting, “Is that all you have? My toothless grandmother can do better!”

Don’t believe me? Look at the following numbers from IBM’s performance comparison of its z13 cloud, similarly configured private x86 clouds, and public clouds running an aggregation of light, medium, and heavy workloads.

The system configurations, based on ratios derived from IBM internal studies, are:

Public Cloud: A total of 219 workloads, consisting of 128 light workloads, 64 medium workloads, and 27 heavy workloads.

Private Cloud: A total of eleven x86 systems, each with 24 Intel E7-8857 v2 3.0GHz cores, 512GB memory, and 7x400GB SSDs. Not a small environment.

IBM z13 Cloud: A total of 32 IFLs (Integrated Facility for Linux), 3806GB memory, and Storwize v7000 with 47x400GB SSDs.

The price comparison estimates are based on a three-year total cost of ownership (TCO) and use publicly available US prices current as of January 1, 2015. These prices include a 20% discount for middleware.

The public cloud TCO estimate includes costs (US East Region) of infrastructure (instances, data out, storage, support, free tier/reserved tier discounts), middleware, and labor. I do wonder if the prices show IBM’s cost for labor, or real market costs. It’s unclear from the information provided.

The z13 and x86 TCO estimates include costs of infrastructure (system, memory, storage, virtualization, OS, cloud management), middleware, power, floor space, and labor (obviously IBM labor costs). IBM does say your results “may vary based on actual workloads, system configurations, customer applications, queries and other variables in a production environment, and may produce different results” and that “users of this document should verify the applicable data for their specific environment.”

The fact remains that however you run the numbers, the z13 is a beast of a machine. Whether you are a cloud aficionado or not, the mainframe is still a thing. It is still the backbone of the vast majority of key Tier 1 critical applications and services.

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