IBM Intros New zEC12 Mainframe, Promises Increased Performance, Security

IBM on Tuesday unveiled its newest mainframe, the zEnterprise EC12, which the company said promises increased performance and security while in some cases cutting the cost of IT operations.

Despite a common misperception that the mainframe is dead thanks to competition from ever-more powerful x86-based computers, IBM spent $1 billion across 18 labs worldwide to develop the zEnterprise EC12, said Doug Brown vice president of global marketing for Power and System z at IBM.

"We're seeing clients needing to respond to the services requirements of their clients," Brown said. "And we're seeing the need for cloud-level security. So, we're seeing a rebirth of interest in mainframes."

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The new zEC12 comes with 50 percent more processor cores, or up to 120 cores, compared to the previous generation of the mainframe, and each processor has 25 percent higher performance than in the past, Brown said.

IBM has also added flash technology to the zEC12's storage to increase performance, he said.

Also new is support for IBM's DB2 Analytics Accelerator which brings IBM's Netezza data warehouse appliance into the mainframe for running complex business analytics and operational analytics on the same platform, he said.

"DB2 knows automatically if a transaction should be processed normally or use the Analytics Accelerator, which is Netezza integrated in DB2," he said. "This is specific to the mainframe. It's for the complex transactions that need acceleration."

The zEC12 mainframe also offers a more secure and reliant processing environment than in the past. Brown said that IBM mainframes are the only commercial computer systems to achieve the Common Criteria Evaluation Assured Level 5+ security classification.

The zEC12 also comes with IBM's new Crypto Express4S card which ensures users are who they say they are before doing transactions, Brown said. It is targeted at public sector and commercial customers where the highest levels of security are required, he said.

Other new features include overhead power and cabling support so that the zEC12 mainframe can be used without raised data center floors, as well as transactional memory technology that improves software support for concurrent operations using a shared set of data.

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Despite the long lineage of IBM's mainframe line, the company continues to attract new customers, IBM's Brown said. IBM signed 142 new customers to its mainframe business in the last year, including 91 from mature markets and 51 from developing markets. The company also worked with 1,067 academic institutions across 67 countries to develop courses related to mainframe computing, of which about half are in the U.S., he said.

Dan Nassif, director of mainframe solutions at Sirius Computer Solutions, a San Antonio, Texas-based solution provider and IBM channel partner, said his company has seen growth in its mainframe business.

Most recently, Sirius signed a major university that was looking to move from Apple computers, in which it was running Linux applications, but couldn't find a suitable platform until it turned to an IBM mainframe, Nassif said.

"The university was concerned about security," he said. "And for Linux, IBM mainframes are compatible in price with other systems. People often run Linux on mainframes to save money. If someone can run a Linux app on four cores of a mainframe instead of 20 cores on an x86 server, they pay less to the application developer. It's the gift that just keeps giving."

Security is a big reason customers sign on with mainframes, or return to the mainframe after trying other systems, Nassif said.

"You never hear of mainframes being hacked," he said. "Some people use mainframes to protect sensitive data from foreign agents or from kids."

One of the biggest parts of the zEC12 news is the larger engine size, including the increased processor performance and the increase in the number of cores, Nassif said.

"This is important for customers to save costs with many of their software apps and workloads," he said. "They can use the System z Integrated Information Processor, or zIIP. It uses the same core as the z/OS [mainframe operating system] runs. But, instructions from certain databases or apps can run on zIIP and not count towards their cost."