They’re Baaaaaaaaack: IBM Announces z13 Mainframe

Due for general availability on March 9, ’s is targeted at three of the hottest IT trends – , and / – and Big Blue’s mantra that infrastructure (i.e. hardware) matters. “Every time a consumer makes a purchase or hits refresh on a smart phone, it can create a cascade of events on the back end of the computing environment,” said Tom Rosamilia, SVP, IBM Systems, in a prepared statement. “Consumers expect fast, easy and secure mobile transactions. The implication for business is the creation of a secure, high performance infrastructure with sophisticated analytics.”

From a revenue/profits perspective, hardware has been on a downward spiral, which is why IBM has moved its focus elsewhere. However, while mainframes accounted for just 5% of its revenues (2013), services and software were estimated to contribute around 25% of revenue and close to 45% of operating profit. “People say the mainframe is dead,” said Vernon Turner, an analyst at IDC, “but we say, hmmm, that’s a $4.5 billion tombstone.”

IDC reported that IBM sold 2,700 mainframes in 2013, up from 2,300 systems and $4 billion in 2002. A more recent report states that System z revenues declined 35% year-over-year in IBM’s most recent quarter, so the timing for a new version is right.

What makes the z13 different from some of our previous offerings is our integrated approach, particularly for customers that have to serve mobile users, said IBM’s John Birtles, Director, z Systems. Some of its benefits include:

-the first system able to process 2.5 billion transactions per day built for mobile economy;
-the ability to do real-time encryption on all mobile transactions at scale; and,
-the first mainframe system with embedded analytics providing real time transaction insights 17X faster than compared competitive systems at a fraction of the cost.

Organizations are focusing on transaction rates, , flexibility and the cloud, said Birtles. Do they move work to the resources or resources to the work? “All of those things are traditional mainframe strengths, so people are looking to mainframes”.

IBM says the z13 system represents a $1 billion investment, five years of development, exploits the innovation of more than 500 new patents and represents a collaboration with over 60 clients. For those dealing with the growing mobile explosion, it helps address the cascade of events – including comparisons to past purchases, data encryption and decryption, bank-to-bank reconciliations, and customer loyalty discounts – that cause a “starburst effect”, where a single transaction can trigger as few as four or as many as 100 additional system interactions.

This starburst effect can create security vulnerabilities at each interaction point. According to an IBM survey of CIOs and IT managers, 71% indicated that security is their most significant mobile enterprise challenge.

Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics, said the biggest, stand-out improvement is that the mainframe is now well suited to integrate real-time analytics into the transactional stream. ‘With the new z13, IBM is delivering a strong benefit to mainframe customers: the ability to process transactional data and perform analytics on the same system in real-time. What this ultimately means is that mainframe customers no longer need to move their data to other systems for analytics processing (and this, in turn, reduces hardware/software/management costs). But it also means that mainframe users can get more reliable results more quickly (because latency is eliminated by not having to move data – and the data is “known-good” because it hasn’t been duplicated and manipulated during the move (ETL) process.’

So while this is very positive, it’s no guarantee of success, said Clabby. Enterprise executive managers will need to become involved in guiding their enterprises toward a more efficient, less costly approach to analyzing mainframe data. My biggest question, however, is will top-level executive management step in and referee this situation – or will they continue to stick with less efficient, more risky ETL processes? With the z13, IBM has supplied a very positive answer to that point. Let’s see if businesses are listening clearly.

Rob Enderle, Enderle Group, calls the z13 the ‘mainframe that makes mainframes cool again.’ With the rapid advancement of personal mobile connected devices, coupled with advancements like 5G and Mu-MIMO, there is suddenly a need for massive I/O and the z13 is uniquely suited for those tasks.

‘The time for a new mainframe architecture couldn’t be more ideal because our mobile devices are increasingly used like terminals with the processing centralized. The mainframe has a competitive advantage because it is designed specifically for this kind of load, and IBM is really the only mainframe OEM left in the market. That is a perfect storm and what makes the z13 Mainframe cool.’

The z13 qualifies as a premium solution for today’s most exacting transaction requirements and provides a foundation for tomorrow’s vision of freewheeling mobile yet fully secure mobile commerce, noted analyst Charles King, Pund-IT. The latest IBM offering suggests that the mainframe architecture is set to enable a new sort of Independence Day for the mobile economy. ‘Both IBM’s transaction processing customers and their consumer clients should enjoy the upcoming fireworks.’

Last year IBM celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first mainframe, the System/360, although mainframes first started shipping in the 1950s from a number of other companies. From a Big Iron perspective, today Big Blue accounts for an estimated 90% of the mainframe market, around 3,000 customers and 10,000 systems.

According to IBM:

-more than 70% of enterprise data resides on a mainframe;

-71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core businesses on a mainframe;

-92 of the top 100 banks use the mainframe;

-23 of the world’s top 25 retailers use the mainframe;

-10 out of 10 of the top insurers use the cloud on the mainframe; and,

-more than 225 state and local governments worldwide rely on a mainframe.

Mainframes, while probably never breaking out of at best a low single-digit growth, will not go away for the foreseeable future, wrote Forrester analyst Richard Fichera in a recent blog. I think the platform is secure, and in the majority of cases the large business-critical workloads that are currently on the mainframe probably should remain on the mainframes.

At IBM Enterprise2014 (October), Ross Mauri, General Manager, System z, IBM Systems & Technology Group, said mobility and cloud are helping to reverse the trend away from mainframes, but it mainly comes down to analytics. “That’s central one for me because of the data.” He only joined the Z team three months ago, but Mauri said IBM has been signing up 10-20 net new clients per quarter.

The growing importance of Big Data and analytics will fuel a rebirth of the mainframe, he said. It’s no longer about the economics, it’s about getting them the data in a timely and effective matter.

In addition to the new hardware, IBM has a new operating system in the works, which is expected to ship next Fall. Birtles added they will enable KVM on the platform.

Looking further ahead, there will be a need to handle larger amounts of data and gain insights at the point of impact. Mobile will challenge us not only at the point of contact, but also speed and scale, he said. Security, which is always a concern, and was addressed with the new encryption capabilities, will continue to be a focus, said Birtles.

Author: Steve Wexler

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