Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The New IBM zEnterprise EC12: Big Iron Gets Bigger (and Better)

When I say "bigger," I don't mean bigger in a "footprint" sense -- the new flagship system in IBM's mainframe server product line is very close, size-wise, to its predecessor, the z196, and has similar power draw and heat load characteristics. What I mean by "bigger"is that the zEnterprise EC12 provides the ability to get more work done, in less time, more efficiently than ever before. That's good news for organizations that need best-of-breed enterprise computing capabilities. It's also good news for those of us who comprise the DB2 for z/OS community: the horse that our favorite DBMS rides is, in the form of the EC12, a thoroughbred like no other.

Continuing with the equine analogy, let's start with a look at the raw horsepower numbers. The EC12's engines run at 5.5 GHz, the highest clock frequency in the industry (the frequency of a z196 engine is 5.2 GHz). That's impressive enough, but the EC12 delivers a per-core processing capacity advantage over the z196 -- up to 25% -- that is significantly greater than suggested just by the difference in engine speed. Very fast processors are only part of the EC12 performance story. There's also a doubling of the cache memory on each processor chip, which reduces delays caused by having to go "off chip" for instructions and data.

Not only are there faster engines that can be more effectively kept busy, there are more engines: a single EC12 server can have up to 120 cores, up to 101 of which can be configured for client use (versus a maximum of 80 configurable cores on a z196 server). Put it all together (a larger number of faster engines), and a fully configured EC12 can deliver 50% more processing capacity than a top-end z196 server.

The total amount of memory available on an EC12 server -- 3 TB -- is the same as for the z196, but something new and very cool is being done with EC12 memory: it can be managed in 2 GB page frames. Yes, that is 2 GB, as in 2000 times the size of the 1 MB page frames available on z196 servers. What does that mean for DB2? Think about a page-fixed buffer pool of 2 GB in size (e.g., 500,000 4K buffers) fitting into ONE real storage page frame. Virtual-to-real storage translation will be more efficient than ever, and that will translate into CPU savings. If you've ever wondered, as a mainframe DB2 person, whether or not the age of Big Memory has really begun, wonder no more. It's here. Get ready to exploit it, if you haven't already.

You might find yourself thinking, "What would my company do with a server that has that much memory and that much processing capacity?" In that case, I have one word for you: virtualization. Don't limit your thinking of EC12 exploitation to one or just a few system images. Think LOTS of system images. Lots of z/OS LPARs on an EC12? Maybe, but I'm thinking more along Linux lines when I think of lots of virtual systems running on a single EC12 box. If your organization isn't running Linux on System z, or thinking seriously about doing so, you're missing a train on which a whole lot of people are traveling. Installation of IFL engines on zEnterprise servers (these are specialty engines that run the Linux operating system) is soaring, and with good reason. The mainframe is a great virtual-system platform (has been for decades, since long before "cloud" mean anything other than coalesced water vapor), and if you have a big and growing DB2 for z/OS client-server workload (as many organizations do), what better place is there for your DB2-accessing application servers than in a Linux image on the same System z server in which DB2 is running? Ever heard of HiperSockets? Network performance doesn't get any better than that. And, think of the benefits in terms of network simplification (and security) when app servers run under Linux on System z, instead of on outboard boxes. With the EC12, the already great System z virtualization story gets better still.

Virtualization's hot, and so is analytics. How about analytics on z? I'm not talking just about having the data accessed by your analytics tools housed in a mainframe database -- we already know that DB2 for z/OS is a great solution there. I'm talking about having the analytics tools themselves running on System z -- in a Linux image or a z/OS LPAR. More and more organizations are doing just that, and the EC12 will provide a related momentum boost. How's that? Well, as you get into progressively higher-value types of analytics -- from "what happened" reporting to "what will happen" predictive modeling -- then you find that the associated processing gets to be more and more CPU-intensive. The EC12 delivers here with significant improvements in performance for compute-intensive and floating-point applications. C and C++ on z? Java on z? Yes. The EC12 is the best mainframe server yet for business analytics.

Excellent performance across a wide range of applications is great, but we all know that a system has to be up if it's to deliver the processing power your organization needs. System z has always been the high-availability champ, and the EC12 takes high availability to a whole new level with zAware (short for System z Advanced Workload Analysis Reporter). zAware provides what one of my colleagues has termed "integrated expert system diagnostics," constantly monitoring OPERLOG messages (which at some sites can number in the millions per day) and presenting related information via an easy-to-interpret graphical user interface. zAware can help mainframe operations personnel to quickly determine when an EC12 system is not behaving normally -- thereby enabling corrective action to be taken before a situation reaches user-impacting proportions.

I've covered a lot in this blog post, but you can learn more about the zEnterprise EC12 and I encourage you to do so. Use the hyperlink I provided at the top of this entry, check out the IBM EC12 Technical Introduction and EC12 Technical Guide "red books," and look for presentations at national conferences and local events. The more you know, the more you'll realize that Big Iron never looked better.

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