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A Cheap Mainframe?

Okay, not everyone has $100,000 to spare, but that's the price of IBM's latest mainframe and it's half the price of its next least-expensive mainframe, the z890, which starts at just under $100,000.

With the debut of the IBM System z9 today, IBM says it's going after a new class of customers: small-to-medium-sized businesses that may never have considered buying a mainframe before.

That's going to be a challenge, Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research in Hayward, CA, told internetnews.com.

"But with this pricing IBM can go after a group of customers they couldn't expect to reach before," King said.

"The mid-market tends to be companies that have grown up using x86-based servers, so IBM's going to have to do some pretty serious marketing and customer education to make this work. A couple of managers aren't going to meet at Starbucks and say 'I think it's time we got a mainframe.'"

The new z90BC (Business Class) system includes up to 64 GB of memory and over 73 capacity settings, a 2.6 times increase in flexibility over the z890. The z90BC also has over 37 percent more capacity than the z8890.

IBM is also offering an upgrade path for its newest entry-level mainframe. Several of IBM's new z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) specialty engine are available for specific database workloads.

General computing capacity is freed up with zIIP because there is minimal need to maintain duplicate copies of data.

zIIP is designed to address a growing trend towards consolidating databases from various platforms, especially Windows, onto the mainframe, said IBM.

Analyst King said the growing popularity of Linux could help sell the z90BC.

"The mainframe can be subdivided into thousands of virtual Linux servers and there are companies saving serious money consolidating that way," he said.

While the traditional SMB doesn't buy mainframes, these relatively small or mid-sized businesses are dealing with more customers than ever before.

"The term SMB has taken on a new meaning, especially when you talk about some of the expanding industries in China and India where those companies might have hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers," Boas Betzler, a senior technical staff member at IBM's Poughkeepsie, N.Y. lab, told internetnews.com.

"Or think about a mid-sized company in the online entertainment and gaming industry. The amount of customers and transactions they process are very well suited to a mainframe system. These companies are expecting critical transactions to be performed and executed 24x7," he said.

Betzler also says the mainframe ties into the adoption of service-oriented architecture , where business critical applications are reused and in unpredictable ways that can require mainframe-class resources.

Another consideration playing to the z90BC's favor is energy savings.

"With energy costs rising, and power density of new electronics increasing, power-efficient devices are increasing in importance, especially with large data centers", Jerald Murphy, director of research operations for Robert Frances Group, said in a statement.

"Every CIO operating a large data center has told me that the mainframe is now the coolest, most efficient device in their data center."

The official z9 BC launch took place in Beijing, China. IBM also announced it was setting up a new lab in Shanghai, China to focus on extending the mainframe's power to run Linux applications.