Last month IBM launched the zEnterprise EC12 (zEC12). As you would expect from the next release of the top-of-the-line mainframe, the zEC12 delivers faster speed and better price/performance. With a 5.5 GHz core processor, up from 5.2 GHz in its predecessor (z196) and an increase in the number of cores per chip (from 4 to 6) IBM calculates it delivers 50% more total capacity in the same footprint. The vEC12 won’t come cheap but on a cost per MIPS basis it’s probably the best value around.
More than just performance, it adds two major new capabilities, IBM zAware and Flash Express, and a slew of other hardware and software optimizations. The two new features, IBM zAware and Flash Express, both promise to be useful, but neither is a game changer. zAware is an analytics capability embedded in firmware. It is intended to monitor the entire zEnterprise system for the purpose of identifying problems before they impact operations.
Flash Express consists of a pair of memory cards installed in the zEC12; what amounts to a new tier of memory. Flash Express is designed to streamline memory paging when transitioning between workloads. It will moderate workload spikes and eliminate the need to page to disk, which should boost performance.
This machine is intended, initially, for shops with the most demanding workloads and no margin for error. The zEC12 also continues IBM’s hybrid computing thrust by including the zBX and new capabilities from System Director to be delivered through Unified Resource Manager APIs for better management of virtualized servers running on zBX blades.
This is a stunningly powerful machine, especially coming just 25 months after the z196 introduction. The zEC12 is intended for optimized corporate data serving. Its 101 configurable cores deliver a performance boost for all workloads. The zEC12 also comes with the usual array of assist processors, which are just configurable cores with the assist personality loaded on. Since they are zEC12 cores, they bring a 20% MIPS price/performance boost.
The directly competitive alternatives from the other (non-x86) server vendors are pretty slow by comparison. Oracle offers its top SPARC-based T4 server that features a 3.0 GHz processor. HP’s Integrity Superdome comes with the Itanium processor and tops out at 1.86 GHz. No performance rivals here, at least until each vendor refreshes its line.
For performance, IBM estimates up to a 45% improvement in Java workloads, up to a 27% improvement in CPU-intensive integer and floating point C/C++ applications, up to 30% improvement in throughput for DB2 for z/OS operational analytics, and more than 30% improvement in throughput for SAP workloads. IBM has, in effect, optimized the zEC12 from top to bottom of the stack. DB2 applications are certain to benefit as will WebSphere and SAP.
IBM characterizes zEC12 pricing as follows:
- Hardware—20% MIPS price/performance improvement for standard engines and specialty engines , Flash Express runs $125,000 per pair of cards (3.2 TB)
- Software—update pricing will provide 2%-7% MLC price/performance for flat-capacity upgrades from z196, and IFLs will maintain PVU rating of 120 for software yet deliver more 20% MIPS
- Maintenance—no less than 2% price performance improvement for standard MIPS and 20% on IFL MIPS
IBM is signaling price aggressiveness and flexibility to attract new shops to the mainframe and stimulate new workloads. The deeply discounted Solution Edition program will include the new machine. IBM also is offering financing with deferred payments through the end of the year in a coordinated effort to move these machines now.
As impressive as the zEC12 specifications and price/performance is BottomlineIT is most impressed by the speed at which IBM delivered the machine. It broke with its with its historic 3-year release cycle to deliver this potent hybrid machine 25 months after the z196 first introduced hybrid computing.