IBM later this year will release a dedicated chip for its z9 mainframe that’s designed to handle the workloads of business intelligence (BI), ERP and CRM applications.

The new chip, the System z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) will be a high-speed engine that improves the ablity to centralise data onto the mainframe, according to IBM. Big Blue said that it will help remove divisions between transactional datastores on the mainframe and BI, ERP and CRM applications running on distributed computers. It also helps minimise the need to maintain duplicate copies of the data and provide better security between the applications and the data.

The zIIP, which will cost US$125,000, follows specialised IBM mainframe chips for Linux and Java workloads released in 2001 and 2004, respectively. It’s also in line with the current thinking of IBM’s chip designers, such as iSeries server chief scientist and co-designer of the Power chip, Frank Soltis. He said recently that the Cell chip, which consists of a core plus eight specialised co-processors, is a futuristic chip design as designers extract more power by adding features rather than increasing clock speeds. The Cell chip, co-developed with Toshiba and Sony, is currently games-orientated but will reach commercial applications eventually, according to Soltis.

IBM said the zIIP chip will be available sometime this year.

The reason a company might want to use a mainframe specialised processor “is fundamentally economics,” said Jerry Murphy, an analyst at Robert Francis Group. Specialised mainframe processors allow users to offload workloads that might otherwise run on the mainframe’s general purpose chips.

IBM said it isn’t charging for software running on the specialised processor, unlike its practice with a mainframe’s general-purpose chip. “You’re saving all those MIPS charges that would be associated with having them on a general purpose processor,” said Murphy - a general purpose chip being one that runs all programs.

IBM programme director Colette Martin said that users can run CRM, ERP and BI applications in a distributed environment and use the specialised processor to connect with the mainframe and DB2 data running on it. Or they can move those applications to the mainframe.

IBM also said that it would be releasing a new version of DB2 for the z/OS operating system sometime this year. It will include enhanced XML, WebSphere and Java integration, new security features and other enhancements.

Charles King, principal analyst at PundIT, said IBM is moving the mainframe from its traditional transaction role into more Web-enabled types of processes. “The value proposition that IBM is pushing [is] that creating these new processors to deal with specific web-based and network-based applications will help improve performance.”