[There were a couple people who didn’t get the joke — and many, many who did. For those who missed it, this post appeared on April 1.]

Happy New Mainframe Day, everyone! It’s always an exciting day when IBM introduces a new mainframe model, and today IBM’s engineers have really outdone themselves. It’s a huge surprise. Nobody expected a new mainframe model in April, 2014, but since this month is the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM System/360, why not? Here are some of the highlights:

1. IBM’s latest and newest machine, announced today, is the zEnterprise XC1313 (or zXC1313 for short). IBM isn’t saying explicitly, but my sources tell me that the XC refers to “eXtreme Cloud,” and the 1313 refers to the number of physical cores inside a single machine. (More on that in a moment.) IBM describes this machine as best exemplifying “the world’s loftiest cloud available for enterprise cloud-centric, cloud computing-oriented, extreme cloud environments.”

2. Holy sh**, look at the cloud speed! The previous record holder was IBM’s own zEC12 at an industry leading 5.5 GHz. This machine clocks in at a jaw dropping 6.66 GHz. That’s 6.66 GHz continuous, round the clock. To achieve this unprecedented clock speed parts of the machine are carved from diamond, literally. There are more diamonds in one zXC1313 than in an average De Beers vault. Also, IBM had to shorten the wiring between processor components, so the designers incorporated new “club sandwich” chip stacking architecture. I leave it to you to decide which parts are bacon, lettuce, and tomato. My sources tell me no there’s no mayonnaise in this model, but that might be a future innovation if they can figure out how to spread the mayo at nanometer levels of precision.

3. The zXC1313 allows customers to configure up to 513 cores in practically any desired combination, not counting the spares (increased to a mandatory minimum 4), SAPs, integrated firmware, and other “reserve” cores. IBM has introduced new 2XX and 3XX sub-capacity general purpose processor configurations to provide greater configuration flexibility, and PCI ratings (“MIPS”) now range from 113 (a bit more than twice the zBC12’s minimum) all the way up to well over 250,000. The exact maximum PCI figure is still being calculated at this writing, according to my reliable sources, though a major German software vendor (not SAP) has already announced they’ll be relying on Gartner’s MIPS figure of 298,682 unless Cheryl Watson publishes an even higher number. Clock speed and the 5X increase in the number of cores account for much but not all of the capacity improvement.

4. A substantial amount of performance improvement is related to the 44 new processor instructions IBM added to this model — incidentally a lucky number throughout Asia. Among the new instructions are CICX and IMSX. CICX is a single instruction that can perform the work of an entire CICS transaction, and likewise IMSX does the same for certain IMS transactions. An IBM press release quotes a pilot customer, State Bank of India, as being able to run an average of 48% of their banking transactions (by volume) in the form of that single CICX processor instruction. I haven’t been able to review the 238 pages in IBM’s updated “Principles of Operation” describing CICX (and the 241 pages describing IMSX) yet, but I expect to do that over the next few days. C/C++, Java, Enterprise PL/I, Assembler, and FORTRAN compiler support for the new CICX and IMSX instructions will be generally available later this month. No word yet on Enterprise COBOL exploitation.

5. The zXC1313 now supports a maximum of 61 LPARs (partitions). That’s up. Simultaneously IBM announced z/VM Version 7, exclusively available for the zXC1313 (and presumably successor models), if you want to divide up your machine further.

6. Yes, there’s a “technology dividend.” IBM says that for the average customer it’ll be like getting the 13th month free every year. Who says IBM doesn’t have a sense of humor?

7. Memory, memory, memory, memory. Now you can have up to 4 TB of usable RAIM-protected memory, less a reserved 32 GB high storage area (HSA). Luckily that’s up, too.

8. The physical packaging is a bit different this time around. The base configuration is equivalent in physical size and other data center considerations to the zEC12, and that base size spans up to 244 cores. To get up to the 513 core maximum IBM adds an expansion frame making the total machine about 50% larger than the zEC12. The expansion frame is available in attractive, contrasting cabinet colors selected by the world famous Italian fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana. For the first time ever one of the available “colors” is “Diamante Trasparente” (transparent diamond), meaning you can see through the case to observe all the parts inside. None of those parts actually move — at least they’re not supposed to — but Sig. Gabbana thought it was a good idea.

9. In keeping with the 50th anniversary spirit, as a limited time promotion IBM is offering specially priced direct model upgrades to the zXC1313 from nearly all System/360, System/370, System/390, zSeries, System z, zEnterprise, and even “compatible” mainframes such as those from Amdahl and Hitachi. Yes, even the IBM PC XT/370 qualifies. IBM will swap as many parts as required to bring your older machine up to zXC1313 specification. Rumor has it that IBM field engineers are being trained now to operate on-site gold smelting equipment. There are three model exceptions, though: customers with IBM System/360 Models 60, 62, and 70 are not eligible to participate in the direct upgrade promotion.

10. Sure enough, there are no more zAAPs. zIIPs have taken over, as IBM said would happen. HP’s printer ink division has filed a lawsuit against IBM in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas alleging interference in the consumption of printer ink as a consequence of the retirement of zAAPs (and associated documentation), but IBM says the lawsuit is without merit. IBM’s lead counsel says that IBM will demonstrate that the letter I, not the letter A, has been a favored part of IBM corporate naming for decades, predating the introduction of the first System/360.

It’s a great day to be alive — er, living — isn’t it?

Posted in IBM.

Iran is subject to severe international sanctions. Most countries cannot legally trade most products with Iranian entities or entities associated with Iran. Of course, most Iranians object to that reality and try to find ways to evade international sanctions to the extent they can.

Yes, there are many IBM mainframes running in Iran. Iranians freely admit this fact, and I’ll share with you what I’ve been able to find with just a bit of research. That reality is despite IBM’s considerable and best efforts to block all its products from embargoed countries, and despite the fact IBM certainly is not answering support calls from or associated with Iran. Presumably some of these current Iranian mainframe users began their mainframe journeys before Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, but other users may have joined the mainframe bandwagon later and recently. There seems to be a vibrant cottage industry of local mainframe sales, service, and support to keep these users (and potential new ones) running as smoothly as possible — illegally, of course, as with myriad other embargoed products. It may or may not be easy to get an IBM mainframe in Iran, and surely it’s impossible to get IBM’s support, but those obstacles clearly haven’t been always insurmountable. And there are no Western software license charges in Iran, so why not run the best enterprise products in the world if you can get them, and if they’re “free”? Let’s explore this unique corner of the IT world together.

So, who do you call in Iran to get an IBM mainframe or three? DP Iran Co. is one obvious option. Prior to and (briefly) during Iran’s Islamic Revolution, IBM had a presence in Iran. According to the company’s own history, DP Iran is the former IBM Iran, quite simply. But DPI doesn’t only (somehow) scour the world to find, procure, and smuggle IBM mainframes into Iran in violation of the embargo — currently, apparently, including not-so-old z10 models that are, as I write this, compatible with all current IBM mainframe software product versions. No, DPI also provides its customers with some locally developed, customized products and support. For example, DPI sells terminal emulation products that support the local language. DPI also will help setup a z/OS Parallel Sysplex for you, and that’s particularly impressive since Parallel Sysplex is the world’s most advanced, mission-critical clustering technology for enterprise computing. It seems some Iranian users also value continuous business service. We can start to learn more about specific IBM mainframe users in Iran from DPI. For example, DPI shares its customer success story about Tejarat Bank, described as a “COBOL/CICS” customer. Elsewhere I found a reference to Tejarat Bank’s migration from VSAM to DB2 for z/OS, so they’ve gone at least partially relational within the past several years.

Informatics Services Corporation (ISC) also provides IBM mainframe sales, service, and support in Iran. ISC, too, has located “zSeries” servers for several clients in Iran, so most (at least) 64-bit IBM mainframe software would be compatible with the machines they sell. ISC describes how they’ve been able for many years to import mainframes in pieces then reassemble them into functioning machines in Iran. That impressive talent probably helps explain why Iran’s High Council of Informatics awarded ISC “First Grade in Presentation and Maintenance of Mainframes.” I wonder what that diploma or trophy looks like.

Iran Computer Industries (ICI) is yet another local IT company providing IBM mainframe sales, service, and support. Need all the latest (or at least recent) IBM mainframe software? No problem, according to ICI. They can even pirate WebSphere Application Server for z/OS. (Software is generally embargoed, too, so the only two options are piracy or doing without. WebSphere and z/OS products are not unique in that respect.) ICI also posts pretty pictures of the latest IBM mainframe models on their Web site.

Then we come to Rayan Novin Tooka Co., for some reason known as PJSC. PJSC also procures IBM mainframes and supports their users. They’re kind enough to share their client list: Bandar Imam Petrochemical, Kala Naft, Petrochemical Kala, Iran Khodro Industrial Group (a major car, bus, and truck manufacturer), and Iran Esfahan Steel. The first three are related to the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). PJSC describes the specific mainframe models some of their clients run. Those particular clients have older 31-bit G5 and G6 models that are compatible with z/OS 1.5 and below. That model information could be 3 years or more out of date, though, so perhaps those clients have found 64-bit machines by now.

This brief tour of the Iranian mainframe sales and service scene barely scratches the surface. You can probably find much more information with just a bit more research. Although I’ve drawn some attention to these IT companies and a few of their clients, I hope the information they’ve posted remains publicly available online. Perhaps some good can come from knowing these details, if not now hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Less than 24 hours ago (as I write this), IBM announced an agreement to sell its entire X86-based server business to Lenovo pending regulatory approvals. IBM will receive $2 billion in cash and $0.3 billion in Lenovo stock in the deal.

The deal, first rumored about 9 months ago, makes a great deal of sense for both companies and for customers as well. IBM has recently poured a great deal of investment into its X86 server line, including especially its PureFlex products, to create truly innovative X86 products. So IBM is divesting a technically superior set of products, much like the 2005 sale of IBM’s PC division (and its famous ThinkPad line) to Lenovo.

Lenovo, in turn, has been an excellent steward of IBM’s former PC division including the ThinkPads. Lenovo has steadily gained marketshare despite a tough competitive environment, and I expect that Lenovo will also be an excellent steward of IBM’s X86 servers going forward. Based on that track record it’s a great time to buy IBM X86 servers if you’re in the market. Lenovo is buying IBM’s X86 server unit to grow it, and that only happens if customers come first.

OK, so what does this news mean for zEnterprise mainframes? On the surface, not so much. That said, this news only reinforces long running market trends that have consistently favored the major part of IBM’s server strategy. Fundamentally IBM has a high value enterprise server strategy, one that focuses on intensely workload-optimized and service quality-optimized offerings with the most advanced technologies and capabilities. IBM is the only significant remaining high value enterprise server vendor, which is really quite astonishing. Sun, HP, and several other server vendors before them are, for all intents and purposes, defunct.

One might (briefly) question whether there’s a ongoing market for high-end servers. So far, and for the foreseeable future, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.” IBM is extremely happy with its zEnterprise business performance, and it should be. There are also strong industry trends that continue to favor high service quality, highly differentiated, workload-optimized computing, notably Big Data, analytics (particularly real-time and near real-time), secure clouds, mobile everywhere, and cognitive computing. The limitations of physics in microelectronics also will tend to favor IBM, its leading R&D, and its business models. More simply, there will be a market for the best, and if you’re the only one offering the best, that ought to be a very good business.

It’s important, though, that IBM not get complacent and that IBM always anticipate customer needs. This X86 server unit sale to Lenovo is at least somewhat positive in that respect, I would argue. It means IBM will, if anything, increase its focus on its core competencies, from its leading microprocessors (not someone else’s) all the way up through the complete business solution and the quality of that solution. Which reminds me of another successful technology company that has taken a similar approach in a completely different market segment: Apple.

By the way, I’m happy to be joining the Millennial Mainframer blogging team to share my thoughts and analysis, and to learn more about what you’re thinking and experiencing in the world of mainframe computing. After a brief hiatus and many years editing The Mainframe Blog, I like my new home here where it’s much easier to exchange ideas. If something’s on your mind, be sure to speak up.

Posted in IBM.