IBM Mobilizes the Mainframe

Mike Vizard
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Six Trends Shaping the Data Center in 2015

Mobile computing and mainframes may be at the two farthest ends of the IT spectrum. But as more people invoke e-commerce applications on mobile devices, they are driving a corresponding spike in the number of transaction being processed on mainframes.

That’s why IBM this week unveiled the z13 mainframe. According to John Birtles, director of System z business development and technical enablement at IBM, this mainframe has been optimized to handle the increased volume of transactions being created by mobile computing devices.

Birtles says that the z13 mainframe is capable of processing 2.5 billion transactions a day and almost every aspect of the venerable mainframe platform has been upgraded, including a 300 percent increase in the amount of memory on the system, a 100 percent increase in the performance of the I/O subsystems, added ability to support replication across wide area networks, and an upgrade to a vector processing engine that is optimized to process string data types that are now more broadly used in various types of systems of record applications.

IBM Launches z13 Mainframe

In addition, Birtles says the z13 is the first mainframe to apply encryption to all mobile transactions in real time, while also being able to process analytics on those transactions in parallel. Rather than offloading analytics to a distributed system, IBM is making a case that the mainframe has enough compute horsepower to process transactions and analytics workloads simultaneously.

Finally, IBM also announced that it intends to make the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor available on mainframes to support Linux applications and allow organizations to boot mainframes from Linux without needing a z/OS license. At the moment, Birtles says that Linux accounts for 27 percent of mainframe workloads.


IBM says it has invested over $1 billion to develop the z13 in order to address the need to process higher volumes of transactions and analyze those transactions in real time. Of course, not every transaction on a mainframe directly corresponds to revenue. A fair percentage of those transactions involve people, for example, simply looking up their bank balances using mobile devices. In recognition of this, IBM recently created a new licensing scheme that lowered the cost of processing those types of transactions by as much as 60 percent.

In the not too distant future, Birtles says it will be fairly routine for a mobile computing device to kick off as many as 5,000 transactions per day. In all, by 2025, it’s estimated that some 40 trillion transactions per day will be generated. IBM, of course, is betting that most of those transactions will be heading in the direction of mainframe platforms that even after 50 years are still the fastest machines around for processing transactions of any type.



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