It's a hell of a beast. The new IBM z/Enterprise 196, the so-called grandly-named "system of systems" has been proclaimed as one of the most significant IBM offerings for some years.

The new machine, offering a choice of operating systems, z/OS, Linux and AIX, as well processor choice, running Power and x86 chips in a blade environment via the mainframe's console.

This is all at a piece with the demand for a new flexibility within workplace environments, as vendors fall over themselves to offer a more open approach, a way to tap into the growing demand for cloud computing. This support for a multitude of operating systems is a long way from the closed systems of yesterday - although you would think that IBM had got round to supporting Windows too when it looked to appeal to the modern workplace.

The launch came just at the right time. In an era when mainframe sales are falling and analysts once again are questioning whether there's any life in such big beasts, IBM has turned the device on its head and created a new generation - is it too late to resuscitate the product or should life support be turned off?

It should be said right off that the mainframe business is nowhere near dead. There are an awful lot of the behemoths out there and there's an awful lot of legacy code still be used on them - companies are looking at ways to make mainframes more accessible to a new generation, so don't expect them to disappear any time now.

And they're certainly not going to disappear if they're going re-imagined, re-named and re-designed as the type of hybrid beast that IBM has come up with. The zEnterprise has broken down some of the barriers between IBM mainframes and its server division, a process that IBM is sure to continue - the IBM data centre is suddenly going to look a whole lot different.

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