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IBM pitches business-class mainframe to the masses -- and the channel

Barb Darrow
IBM's latest business-class mainframe may be the company's first "big iron" foray really suited for channel sales into midmarket companies, analysts and solution providers said this week.

A stripped-down version of the IBM z10 Business Class

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(or z10 BC) mainframe can be had for as little as $85,000, and that could give high-end Unix, Linux and Windows servers some competition, said Brad Day, vice president of Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. Pricing ranges up to $250,000.

The consolidation of multiple Linux-, Unix- or Windows-based servers is a prime target market for these machines, which are about the size of refrigerators and do not require the raised floor infrastructure of legacy mainframes.

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"If [solution providers are] already in there doing x86 consolidation, selling products or offering a value-add software or service, they would be brain dead not to add this option," Day told SearchITChannel.com.

Early takers will likely be IBM partners who already sell the company's servers and storage, as well as VARs selling Hewlett-Packard ProLiant or Integrity servers.

The z10 Business Class Mainframe is more attractive than the predecessor z9 model because it's more fully featured and expandable, partners said. One described the z9 BC as a "neutered" offshoot of the enterprise-class z9, and that is not the case with the z10 BC -- which comes with a variety of optional "specialty engines" or processors to run popular SAP, Linux or Java applications. IBM claims this mainframe is 40% faster and offers 50% more capacity than the z9 BC and runs the same quad-core processor as its bigger z10 Enterprise Class sibling.

The way IBM prices its mainframe software, a move from the z9 to the z10 triggers a 15% reduction in software license costs, Day said. For that reason, there could be significant sales of this box into accounts downsizing from older mainframes, according to some observers.

Tom Quinn, IBM's business unit executive for System z sales, said the key to the z10 BC mainframe is expandability and power. "From a hardware standpoint, for less than $100,000 for a small configuration, we're talking about 26 million instructions per second [MIPS] at the low end, but then ranging up to 2,000 MIPS," he said. Quinn expects that about 15% of overall z10 sales in North America (including the pricier enterprise-class machines) will go through business partners. But for the z10 Business Class mainframe, that number rises to 70%.

Target customers will include smaller enterprises in the banking and finance sector, which overall makes up the IBM mainframe's biggest audience.

z10 Business Class mainframe's price, flexibility may broaden installed base

Quinn said he expects the bulk of sales to go to existing IBM mainframe customers as opposed to new accounts. However, at least one IBM reseller said he sees significant new workloads coming into the mainframe fold with this release.

"We see a lot of new workloads on Linux, running WebSphere or Oracle. We can for the first time go into customers who've never had a mainframe and show the value proposition for consolidating or displacing Sun, HP Wintel or Unix machines," said Tom Amodio, president of Vicom Infinity Inc., an IBM-exclusive partner in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Amodio said his company could take several underutilized workflows and consolidate them onto the older z9 BCs to reduce costs. Vicom Infinity can continue to do that but also cram a lot more compute capability onto one machine with the z10 Business Class mainframe.

One of the biggest issues he faces with customers is their "culture shock."

"We go in and get rid of 36 Sun, HP or even IBM servers running Oracle across maybe 100 processor cores and consolidate them onto eight or 10 or 12 IFLs," Amodio said. (IFL stands for Integrated Facility for Linux, a specialized processor used to run relevant workflows on the mainframe. IFLs can be bought and turned on as workloads increase without boosting software costs.) "Conceptually, that is shocking to them. It's easier for them to see us taking four or five mission-critical servers and consolidating them, but to take an entire Oracle workload is tough for them to conceptualize," he said.

And, when it comes to mainframes, software cost is a huge factor, said Forrester's Day. "The mainframe's ass will be saved only if software cost of ownership can be lowered," he said. The use of Linux to run these machines definitely helps in that regard.

Solution providers also like the availability of more capacity settings on the z10 BC. Steve Madonia, System z manager for Levi, Ray & Shoup, a Springfield, Ill.-based tech consultancy, cites the overall faster processor performance in the z10 -- it will handle big Web workloads and will run Linux better. But he's mostly jazzed that the capacity settings are more granular and can be bought and turned on as required. "Before there were 75 settings, now 130 -- so there are more MIPS levels that the customer can use if needed."

Most of his business will come from existing mainframe shops looking to consolidate workloads on Linux. "We'll sell the benefits of the new specialty engines and IFLs," he said.


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