Not quite halfway through the two-year IBM z14 lifecycle, the company has announced two new models. These are designed to appeal not just to existing customers but also to new customers as the company targets its biggest year for mainframe sales in over a decade. Yes, that does say over a decade.

In reality, CIC believes that the group should be able to achieve this sales target and more.

And here is why.

There are two new models that IBM is introducing – IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper II. Both are entry level models that continue the push into mid-sized enterprises for the IBM Z platform. For some customers they will be seen as an upgrade option for their existing IBM z13s and LinuxONE Rockhopper systems. For other customers, these are entry-level boxes that will allow them to consider moving to the platform to gain all the mainframe advantages.

Crucially, these are not just systems designed by IBM for the workloads IBM thinks customers have. The company worked with partners to design the z13s and Rockhopper models that it released two years ago and that early involvement program for customers is a part of the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II efforts today. With both of these models, it had input from over 80 customers. This implies that there is a ready market when the products officially launch, allowing the company to aim for a stellar mainframe sales year.  For now, they are being tested by a mix of internal and external clients.

One size does not fit all – the technical smarts of both systems

Neither of these models is designed to be a poor man’s mainframe. There are four main configurations based on the number of processor units (PUs) – 4, 12, 24 and 30 (the z14 ZR1 can support up to 6 total central processors (CPs)). They will also support from 64GB-8TB RAM. This will interest those customers who had previously considered the existing IBM z14 and LinuxONE Emperor II models where the entry level M01 and LM1 models support 33 processors and 8TB RAM. It may be that this becomes the more normal entry point for those customers as it will allow them to scale up their resources rather than buy into a model that they might see as too expensive.

What gives the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II an even bigger edge over the current shipping models is that they, depending on the configuration, come with 16U of space in their industry standard 19-inch racks. This will allow customers to install additional devices such as storage, switches or routers inside. It makes both of these completely self-contained and that is part of their attraction.

Adding to that attraction is the size. The z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II require just two floor tiles in the data centre. This means that installation does not require changes to data centre layout, cooling or even aisle construction. It is a smart move by IBM as it makes both of these models much more consumable than their larger and more powerful counterparts.

Who are these new mainframes aimed at?

The sizing in terms of processors and memory opens up several opportunities for IBM. For some customers, these two models mean they could take a single critical workload and put it on its own z14 derivative. There are no compromises and no trade-offs. All the technology they have today, including pervasive encryption and Secure Service Containers come with the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II.

Companies that process a lot of personal data but need to geo-fence it can now install either of these models in their country data centres. They can then just licence the same software they use today and move the data across. With the pervasive encryption it means that they can quickly improve their data protection and reduce the risk of a data breach. And with Secure Service Container technology they have an environment for deploying container-based applications and data that preclude even privileged users from accessing the contents outside of well-defined APIs.

Existing customers looking to offload some work to a smaller computer makes both models an easy option.

IBM has built a business out of mainframe in the cloud. It hosts several z14 and LinuxONE models in its IBM Cloud data centres. It also has over 20 partners who have bought into the mainframe in order to offer shared computing. Most of these do so through their own cloud services. With these two new models, they get a lot more flexibility and at a cost that allows them to build in data redundancy across sites.

Opening the door for machine learning and AI

Commercial customers are beginning to investigate the move to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. There is a growing expectation that being able to utilise data held in Systems of Record, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and accounting systems will provide new business opportunities and insights into how companies are run.

IBM has ported the machine learning technology from IBM Watson onto IBM Z platforms. This provides the opportunity for the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II to become the platform for home-grown AI solutions.

IBM Watson has also shown how AI works in the cyber security space. Large enterprises running their own Security Operation Centres (SOCs) could see these two new models as providing them with the ability to build their own cyber security AI to help reduce the pressure on security analysts.

What does this mean for customers?

For companies that already use mainframe-based technology these are two more platforms to consider. Both are capable of being installed and running within hours. In fact, IBM took the first customer model to the site and it was up and running within a day. The sizing of z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper means that they can be accommodated inside existing data centres and this means a much lower cost of acquisition.

A list of some of the other main benefits are:

  • Both models run Linux (49% of IBM Z enterprises now run Linux).
  • There is a large highly skilled workforce for Linux which means there are no additional acquisition costs for retraining staff.
  • The open source community has ported a significant volume of its products to Linux on IBM z which means no porting data to new applications.
  • Existing Linux code just needs to be recompiled with little to no changes. This means that in-house applications and utilities will see the z14 ZR1 and LinuxONE as just another deployment platform.
  • IBM has created a ready interest in the platform among graduates and new entrants into the job market with its global Master the Mainframe competition.
  • Pervasive encryption means everything is encrypted without any impact on users or applications.

Partners to get their own sales force

In its quest to hit new heights of mainframe sales, IBM has reversed an industry trend over dedicated sales forces. Over the last five years, sales forces have felt the axe as vendors shifted to a partner only model. IBM believes that this is not enough to support the growth in mainframe revenues. This division already delivers around 25% of IBM’s turnover according to its latest accounts.

IBM has now created a new dedicated sales team to accelerate adoption of its IBM Z family along with associated hardware and software. This team will spend its time closely supporting the partners’ sales channel and helping to open up new markets.

What does CIC think?

It is not often that we get extremely bullish over the introduction of a new product by a vendor. However, in this case, IBM is making all the right sounds for delivering on sales and has a solid roadmap for the future. Importantly it is not trying to create new markets by itself. It has sought and received significant buy-in from its customer council as shown by the involvement of 80 customers in the planning for the z14 ZR1 and LinuxONE Rockhopper II.

This move also builds substantively on work it has already done in this space. The support of companies looking to deploying mainframe in the cloud and the deployment of mainframes in its own cloud over the last 30 months are examples of this.

Will IBM announce 2018 as the year mainframe sales reached a more than decade high peak? Given the existing momentum and these two new models, we believe it will.

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