IBM Unveils New Entry-Level Mainframes Starting At $100,000

The new systems, IBM's first mainframes with a starting price of about $100,000, aim to replace hundreds of smaller servers in order to increase data center manageability and reduce power consumption, said Boas Betzler, senior technical staff member at IBM's Poughkeepsie Lab and one of the original developers of Linux for the mainframe.

As businesses continue to move to a service-oriented architecture (SOA), they need servers designed to run applications as a service, a task for which the mainframe is suited, said Betzler.

When moving to a services-oriented business, customers need to pick and choose a variety of software to solve their business decision, and to run a variety of workloads including Java, Linux, XML, applications like enterprise resource planning and on-line transaction processing, and a range of specialty engines, each of which typically requires its own server or servers, Betzler said.

A mainframe could replace racks full of smaller servers with one system that can be carved into hundreds of virtual servers, all of which can be secured with encryption, said Betzler. "With a mainframe, you get seamless management of a virtual environment," he said.

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Unlike multiple small servers that, when configured for a single application, may only operate at utilization rates as low as 10 percent, it is not unusual to see mainframes operating at 80 percent to 90 percent utilization, Betzler said. "Mainframes manage multiple different workloads very fast and efficiently," he said. "Instead of rolling in a bunch of new servers, you can just set up new virtual servers."

The z9 Business Class machines include capacity on demand, under which the user can switch on processing capacity for certain applications, and then switch it off when not needed.

Any solution providers with mainframe experience will find the z9 Business Class models of interest to smaller clients, said Betzler. "But for those without mainframe experience, now is a good time to start," he said. "With this price point, it's a very good entry into the SMB space."

IBM is reaching out to the channel with education and training programs for its mainframe business, Betzler said. However, most solution providers already have the main prerequisites to working on mainframes, namely an understanding of virtualization, security, and application platforms, he said.

"If you run a server, you need to get to the data and connect services like Java, Linux, and XML to handle the data," he said. "You need to use familiar interfaces. Given that these different services are run the same regardless of hardware, and that you have virtualization and partitioning, people who do these don't need to know what hardware is under it."

The new mainframes start at $100,000 for a 26-MIPs (million I/Os per second) entry point, or one processor. They can be ordered in one-way to four-way or a one-way to three-way versions, or can be configured up to a seven-way machine with specialty engines.

Availability is scheduled for late May.