IBM trots out 'skinny mainframe' to widen big iron appeal

IBM hopes to attract born-in-the-cloud startups that never considered buying a full-blown z14 mainframe, with its little brother, the 'skinny mainframe.'

IBM is trying to fatten its cloud revenues with a "skinny" mainframe for midsize organizations down to born-in-the-cloud startups.

The z14 Model ZR1 and LinuxOne Rockhopper II each fit into a 19-inch, single frame rack -- a dramatic design change for IBM's mainframes -- yet they both provide the same pervasive encryption capabilities as their big brother, the z14 mainframe. More importantly, this skinny mainframe signals IBM's intent to seed new markets with mainframe technology and increase the potential to sell those users on its strategic cloud-based software technologies, such as blockchain, machine learning, AI and container technologies.

"They are gravitating away from the classic enterprise space with mainframes and moving them into the cloud," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, a consultancy in Washington, D.C. "This is an attempt to broaden the base [of mainframe users], as well enter new markets with some of their new generation technologies.

Some of those new generation IBM technologies, particularly the security that blockchain can offer, could also attract not just smaller user organizations but service providers that work with larger enterprise-class IT shops.

"Higher levels of security through built-in encryption and the new form factor could increase Z systems shipments to more MSPs [managed service providers] and CSPs [cloud services providers] who deliver services to enterprise customers," said Jean Bozman, vice president and principal analyst at Hurwitz & Associates.

IBM's z14 ZR1
IBM's z14 ZR1 'skinny mainframe'

IBM reloads for cloud market battle

The new system is a counter punch to lower-cost, Intel-based server hardware that has flooded into the data centers of large IT shops and service providers from the likes of Dell Technologies Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise over the past decade, drowning the hopes of IBM's proprietary servers.

They are gravitating away from the classic enterprise space with mainframes and moving them into the cloud.
Frank Dzubeckpresident, Communications Network Architects.

"Just as Intel systems scrunched into the work environments where IBM had been dominant, IBM is going to scrunch back with [these skinny mainframe systems] and try to make it harder for those [Intel-based server] companies to go after the cloud market," Dzubeck said.

Going hand in hand with the systems' new design is the company's effort to rebrand the mainframe to appeal to the generation of younger IT professionals. During an IBM briefing, the company persistently called the new systems "a 'cloud data center in a box', which is just a rack," said one analyst. "They seemed reluctant to use the word mainframe in connection with this."

IBM worked with over 80 organizations and providers in creating the new systems, and received enough critical contributions to claim the systems were "co-created" with them. Those users include Atos, an MSP, as well as insurance companies Techcombank and North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance, according to IBM.

IBM plans to deploy the skinny mainframe in its own public cloud data centers to further improve security and overall speed and performance, said Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM Z.

IBM also claims the systems, particularly the z14 ZR1, can serve as the foundation for the IBM Cloud Private offering, to colocate storage, networking and a handful of other capabilities in the same physical frame as the mainframe server, a company spokesman said.

Even in its 19-inch form factor, the new systems have 10% more storage capacity than the z13 mainframes and with 8 TB of memory it has twice as much memory. The z14 ZR1 can process 850 million encrypted transactions a day on a single system. The systems are certified for Docker EE and can scale up to 330,000 Docker containers to help corporate developers put together applications that work with a microservices architecture.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at [email protected]

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