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IBM Upgrades Hardware

IBM Mainframe Running World's Fastest Commercial Processor 158

Posted by timothy
from the overclocked-with-pencil-lead-of-course dept.
dcblogs writes "IBM's new mainframe includes a 5.5-GHz processor, which may be the world's fastest commercial processor, say analysts. This new system, the zEnterprise EC12, can also support more than 6-TB of flash memory to help speed data processing. The latest chip has six cores, up from four in the prior generation two years ago. But Jeff Frey, the CTO of the System Z platform, says they aren't trading off single-thread performance in the mainframe with the additional cores. There are still many customers who have applications that execute processes serially, such as batch applications, he said. This latest chip was produced at 32 nanometers, versus 45 nanometers in the earlier system. This smaller size allows more cache on the chip, in this case 33% more Level-2 cache. The system has doubled the L3 and L4 cache over the prior generation."
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IBM Mainframe Running World's Fastest Commercial Processor

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  • Re:bogus claims (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @12:12PM (#41150365)

    There are some engineering tricks I've seen IBM use which are pretty cool. Take the POWER7 CPU line for example. You can disable every other core, allowing the cores that are operational use the cache of the cores that are not on. This gives not just cache, but allows a higher clock speed. Of course, this feature is mainly used to deal with applications which are licensed by the hardware cores present.

    Mainframes are probably one of the most underutilized tools out there. However, for performance per square foot in the data center, they are hard to beat these days.

    Of course, the biggest advantage: It isn't x86. With virtually everything running on the x86 or amd64 platform, all it would take is an undocumented instruction similar to the F0 0F bug that happens to give ring 0 access, and virtually the whole world is vulnerable with absolutely zero way of protecting against it except reaching for the network cable or power switch.

  • Re:Except.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BBCWatcher (900486) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @12:24PM (#41150543)
    No, that's not a correct supposition -- quite the opposite, actually. All processors, including Intel X86, use microcode (or what IBM calls millicode) to a degree. IBM knows it well. After all, they invented microcode/millicode in the System/360 in 1965. But IBM uses microcode comparatively less nowadays than other processor architectures. The vast majority of zEC12 instructions are implemented entirely in hardware, including IEEE-754-2008 decimal floating point as an example. There's some really, really interesting new stuff in the instruction set, like the first transactional memory ("transaction execution facility") instructions in a commercial server, and some "feedback" instructions that can tell Java applications/the JVM how to dynamically tune itself in a live running environment. Very cutting edge -- so cutting edge I've got to crack open some engineering manuals to try to figure out what they've done, although they probably need to write those manuals.
  • Overpriced crap (Score:1, Interesting)

    by bored (40072) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @12:26PM (#41150581)

    5.5Ghz probably makes it about as fast as a 2 year old intel machine. I should know, I have a z114 (previous generation at 3.8Ghz) that i've done extensive benchmarks on. The fact that IBM refuses to publish standard benchmark numbers (specCPU, specVM, etc) should be sufficient proof that they are not pretty.

    I can say that the people buying these things are pretty much smoking some fine IBM drugs. Sure, they are actually fairly competitive (but still not class leading) on the high end, but on the low end, which starts at ~200k, after disks and licenses, for 26 MIPS are abysmal. At that price/performance hercules [hercules-390.org] on a midrange desktop PC doing software emulation (and its not even JIT'ed) runs somewhere between 5-15x as fast.

    A 26 MIP mainframe is roughly equal to a Pentium 90. A full blown 3.8 Ghz z114 is roughly equal to a 5 year old x86 server.

    Worse yet, is FICON, which generally is just a giant layer of inefficiency sitting in front of standard SCSI/SAS disks. So, the IO numbers are pretty abysmal too.

    Basically, you have to spend >$400k before the mainframe catches up to what you can do on your desktop with a free emulator.

    If your running linux on z, then your really deluded. In fact, your probably better off taking the HMCs, SEs, and CUs that it comes with and running linux on them directly. The only minor saving grace is that IBM doesn't rape people for unlocked processors to run linux (IFL's).

    Further, IBM's claims of easier manageability are a joke. I can install ESXi and a half dozen linux machines, in the time it takes an expert system programmer to setup the HCD, install z/vm, and start configuring a linux machine. Oh, and I can migrate the image with a couple mouse clicks. Plus, I don't have to manage my data stores as a bunch of tiny disk images because zOS still prefers to deal with mod3 (~3GB) and mod9 (~9GB) disk partitions. I literally have a few hundred partitions on a machine with just a couple TB of storage. If you think managing a few dozen vmware disks is a problem, multiply it by 3-8x on z to run linux.

    Frankly, if you have cobol, JCL, whatever running on these things and your not desperately trying to migrate to another platform, then your must either be extremely rich, or really stupid. The maintenance costs alone over ten years is going to save 7 figure sums, which should more more than enough to hire a couple programmers and a system administrator to port and maintain the apps on a machine that costs $20k every 5 years.

  • Re:CPU (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BBCWatcher (900486) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @01:06PM (#41151293)
    Yes, you could do that. Multiple images, actually. And that's basically what these servers do automatically. There are 4 levels of cache, main memory (which is RAID-protected actually, called RAIM -- only IBM does that), and there's another optional level of directly processor-addressable memory called Flash Express which is nonvolatile -- that's new, too. It works particularly well for fast paging, in-memory databases, memory dumps, etc. Then you go into fiber-attached and heavily cached solid state disk, fast disk, nearline disk, tape libraries. There are a lot of storage layers, and they're all very big.
  • Re:Overpriced crap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @01:59PM (#41152577) Homepage

    5.5Ghz probably makes it about as fast as a 2 year old intel machine. I should know, I have a z114 (previous generation at 3.8Ghz) that i've done extensive benchmarks on. The fact that IBM refuses to publish standard benchmark numbers (specCPU, specVM, etc) should be sufficient proof that they are not pretty.

    I can say that the people buying these things are pretty much smoking some fine IBM drugs

    I'm quite sure that for the applications people actually use mainframes for, you're utterly wrong.

    Not only do they scale massively higher in terms of throughput, they also manage to do it with obscene uptimes (measured in years) and reliability nothing can compare to.

    For certain kinds of applications, what you say is largely true. But at the huge end for things like banking, financial transactions, and airline reservations ... there's really no comparison.

    The maintenance costs alone over ten years is going to save 7 figure sums, which should more more than enough to hire a couple programmers and a system administrator to port and maintain the apps on a machine that costs $20k every 5 years.

    I've worked on projects trying to do exactly this. And I've seen a couple of them fail.

    Trying to map out all of the use cases for software which is mission critical and has been around since the 60's can actually prove to be exceedingly challenging if not impossible.

    I'm just not convinced that for the kinds of applications and environments where people will run mainframes that what you suggest would give the same performance or scalability as a big giant mainframe. There just seems to be something missing from that picture, and to me it's the sheer volume of stuff these things handle. Certainly not even in the same category as what you call a midrange desktop.

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