IBM has launched a new System z9 Business Class mainframe starting at around $100,000 (about £56,000), and a new database-optimised processor for the z9 Enterprise Class.

The z9 Business Class is designed to tackle what IBM dubbed critical computing challenges of the future: automated Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), new heightened expectations for data security and the rapid expansion of emerging markets. It's cheap for a mainframe and is designed for small and medium sized businesses, by allowing workloads to scale in smaller increments than ever before.

The company launched the system at a press conference in China, saying that the new product is aimed at fast-expanding markets, where many firms are said to be rapidly deploying mainframes. According to AMI Partners, there are 8.3 million small- and medium-sized enterprises in China and Big Blue's aim is to grab market share early, especially in the healthcare and retail markets.

IBM said the new machine is designed for assimilating data and transactions from many different sources on both heterogeneous and homogeneous networks. For example, by combining key existing core transactions with newly written transactions, IBM said a business could quickly compose a new application using both existing and new technologies.

New database-optimised CPU
The z9 Business Class and Enterprise Class systems will be the first to offer the System z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), an engine specialised for database workloads, said IBM. Shipping this quarter, zIIP is designed to help centralise data, free-up general computing capacity and can, said the company, help lower software costs for select workloads such as business intelligence (BI), ERP and CRM on the mainframe. IBM said ti wouldn't impose software charges on zIIP capacity.

This solution helps break down the walls between transactional data stores on the mainframe and BI, ERP and CRM applications that run on distributed computers, said IBM, adding that zIIP capability helps minimise the need to maintain duplicate copies of the data and provides better security between the applications and the data.

The zIIP capitalises on a growing trend towards consolidating databases from various platforms, especially Windows, onto the mainframe, said IBM. According to a recent news report on a study by Gartner: "some 28 per cent of companies polled by customers said they would be transitioning databases on to the z/OS platform - and a "large percentage" of these customers are moving from Windows to z/OS."

z9 Enterprise Class mainframe
IBM was keen to emphasise the benefits of mainframes against standalone servers, in particular stressing high utilisation and virtualisation as their strengths.

IBM said a mainframe combines the power of hundreds of virtual servers with the simplicity of a single physical system to deliver "substantial" savings. On a processor-to-processor comparison, a 54-way z9 Enterprise Class computer consumes about the same amount of energy as 27 Dell PowerEdge 2850 servers with 54 x86-based processors, according to IBM. However, the company reckoned that the high utilisation rate of System z9 mainframes combined with its ability to virtualise workloads enables each processor to perform far more work than a single x86 processor running Windows which typically run at around five per cent utilisation.

"With energy costs rising, and power density of new electronics increasing, power-efficient devices are increasing in importance, especially with large data centres," according to Jerald Murphy, SVP and Director of Research Operations for Robert Frances Group. "Every CIO I've spoken to who operates a large data centre has told me that the mainframe is now the coolest, most efficient device in their data centre.”

Additionally, a distributed environment of Intel or Unix servers may include many systems that are not running workloads. These include systems for test and development, hot standby/failover, and training and integration, which could all be performed on a single mainframe, according to Big Blue. This means one z9 Business Class system might handle the workload of up to hundreds of distributed servers based on Unix or x86 class systems.

“Unix and Intel systems, while providing good technology, evolved from PCs and workstations,” said IBM's mainframe manager Jim Stallings. “The IBM mainframe was designed from the beginning to share work across all dimensions – among servers, applications and people. That’s the true power of the platform.”