BBCWatcher writes: This month a new world's fastest microprocessor was revealed at the Hot Chips conference in the final presentation slot, and it's a shocker. IBM starts shipping their z196 servers, and (surprise!) the fastest microprocessor is exclusively inside their latest mainframe. As chip designers slam hard into the physical limits of Moore's Law, get used to a new world of mainframe performance dominance. For decades mainframes have excelled in delivering high throughput for multiple concurrent applications (i.e. cloud computing), but you would have had to look elsewhere (to a supercomputer, to Intel or to IBM's POWER) to find the world's fastest computational performance. Not this time: Mainframe and Supercomputer have combined their DNA. The quad-core z196 CPU design is clocked at a world record 5.2 GHz (with no "burst" cheats), but the clock speed only partly explains why the z196 screams. The z196 has out-of-order execution, a first for IBM mainframes, and insane amounts of cache, including on-chip DRAM, spread across a record number of levels. There are also hardware instructions that accelerate advanced cryptography, precision decimal floating point operations, compression, and other complex tasks. (This is CISC design in all its glory.) Unfortunately the "press" gets a lot of details wrong (ahem, Fox News), but that's sometimes what happens with unexpected technical news.
BBCWatcher writes: So what's the world's fastest microprocessor? Intel's latest X86? No, maybe later. AMD? No. Itanium? Heck no, never. SPARC? Goodness no, are they still around? IBM's POWER7? Closest... but not at the moment. Today it's IBM's zEnterprise 196, i.e. the newest mainframe model. A mainframe holding the honor of world's fastest microprocessor? Yes, and it's time to get used to it. IBM's engineers have just rocked the server world by taking the world's fastest microprocessor, clocked at a constant and unsurpassed 5.2 GHz (!) with new out-of-order instruction execution (while keeping mainframe instruction result verification and on-the-fly fault recovery and core fail-over), putting 96 cores of them into a single machine, surrounding them with 4 (!) levels of cache memory (each far larger than anything else), providing 3 TB (usable) of the world's first and only RAIM-protected fast memory (that's RAID for RAM), giving them scores of dedicated assist processors, accelerating the already famous mainframe I/O... and, to top it all off, adding in mainframe-managed closely attached blade servers to mop up the data center floor. IBM says more than 100,000 virtual servers can run on a single zEnterprise System with zEnterprise BladeCenter Expansion feature. And of course it's built to keep your important applications running continuously, no excuses, with no interruptions for either hardware or software changes. ....I want one.
BBCWatcher writes: Germany's Wilhelm Schickard Institut fur Informatik has just published a paper on "System z and z/OS Unique Characteristics," and here's its thought-provoking opener: "Many people still associate mainframes with obsolete technology. Surprisingly, the opposite is true. Mainframes feature many hardware, software, and system integration technologies that are either not at all, or only in an elementary form, available on other server platforms. On the other hand, we know of no advanced server features which are not available on mainframes." The report provides comparisons (to the extent possible) between 40+ mainframe capabilities and other servers' capabilities, with lots of references. Although quite technical, the paper is approachable. (Sun's mainframe-critical ad reprinted in the report is especially amusing given recent history.) There's also this closing prediction: "We assume that present [mainframe] technologies...will become available on other server platforms within the next 10 years. We also assume mainframes will have introduced new not yet identified technologies [during] this time, and that the size of the technology gap will remain roughly the same. During the last 30-40 years this has been the case, and the driving forces have not changed." IBM says there's a new mainframe model coming this year, so we'll see more of the leading edge soon.
BBCWatcher writes: The Register's headline is a little misleading (mainframes are also UNIX machines), but the basic facts are these: BC Card, Korea's largest credit card company, is ejecting its many HP and Sun UNIX servers, and Oracle databases, and replacing them with (undoubtedly fewer) IBM System z10 servers (a.k.a. "mainframes") running z/OS, CICS Transaction Server, DB2 for z/OS, WebSphere Application Server for z/OS, Java, C/C++, Tivoli and InfoSphere software, etc., for its next generation credit card processing applications. IBM dropped the bombshell before Christmas, but the (stunned? vacationing?) Western IT press is only now waking up to recognize its significance. Sayeth BC Card's CIO, JeongKyu Lee: "We chose System z for its continuous operation, service quality made available through IBM's mainframe software solutions, and economic returns for the years ahead." Likely translation: "People expect their cards to work, we deal with serious Won every minute, this z stuff is the best damn tech for the mission, and IBM wanted our business." BC Card, founded in 1982, has never had a mainframe before.
BBCWatcher writes: More bad news in the Oracle-Sun nuptuals. Numerous press outlets (here, here, here, etc.) report that the European Commission has lodged formal objections to Oracle's planned $7.4B acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Previously the Commission planned their final ruling for January 19, 2010, but the formal objections now cast doubt on that deadline or whether Oracle can satisfy anti-trust regulators anytime soon (or ever). Says Oracle in a statement: "The commission's statement of objections reveals a profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open-source dynamics. It is well understood by those knowledgeable about open-source software that because MySQL is open source, it cannot be controlled by anyone. That is the whole point of open source." Oracle and Sun are worried about the delay, as Sun is hemorrhaging customers and employees amid the increasing uncertainty. Sun just reported fiscal 1Q2010 earnings, with total sales falling 25% and server sales plunging 31.4%. Oracle could walk away from Sun for $260M, but reports suggest no such exit at this time. Traders are still getting nervous: Sun stock has fallen away from Oracle's bid price recently.
BBCWatcher writes: After the U.S. markets closed on Thursday, Microsoft posted grim news: revenues down 17% for the just finished quarter (year to year) and profits down 29% despite $1B in cost cutting. The results shocked Wall Street analysts and unsettled the whole market. The quarter capped the first full year revenue decline since MSFT stock started trading publicly in 1986. Nothing worked for the company, with the possible exception of ~$10 XP sales to netbook OEMs. Everything fell, including Windows, Office, servers, Xbox, and Web advertising. Moreover, the advertising, Xbox, Zune, and mobile phone businesses were all deep in the red. Microsoft blamed the economy. However, while Nokia and Dell reported bad results, other tech stalwarts like Apple, Intel (to some extent), Google, and IBM have prospered. Of course, Microsoft remains profitable, though (amazingly) less profitable in the quarter than IBM.
BBCWatcher writes: In CPU news, IBM says that its POWER7 servers will start shipping in the first half of 2010, on schedule or perhaps even a few months early if you believe Wikipedia. Moreover, upgrades from a wide variety of POWER6 models will be mere CPU swaps, with the upgraded servers keeping their same serial numbers. (Bean counters like that.) POWER7 sports up to 8 cores per die, 4 threads per core, a clock speed a Hertz or two above 4 GHz, 45 nm process manufacturing, on-chip DDR3, and up to 1,000 micropartitions per machine. IBM claims that POWER7 will offer about 256 Gflops per die and two to three times the performance per watt as POWER6. IBM wants to keep taking orders now for its POWER6 gear (duh), so its sales reps are allegedly ready and eager to deal on 6-cum-7 packages. And it looks like that cunning plan could work rather well given Sun's Rock CPU cancellation and HP's delay of Tukwila Itanium to 2010. (Is anybody still in the server CPU race except IBM, Intel, and maybe AMD?) In 2006, POWER7 won the contest for a DARPA supercomputing R&D grant of $244 million, so you could say that each U.S. citizen is in for about a dollar already.
BBCWatcher writes: Computerworld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols reports that the London Stock Exchange is abandoning its Microsoft Windows-based trading platform: "Anyone who was ever fool enough to believe that Microsoft software was good enough to be used for a mission-critical operation had their face slapped this September when the LSE's Windows-based TradElect system brought the market to a standstill for almost an entire day.... Sources at the LSE tell me to this day that the problem was with TradElect.... Sources...tell me that TradElect's failure was the final straw for [the ex-CEO's] tenure. The new CEO, Xavier Rolet, is reported to have immediately decided to put an end to TradElect. TradElect runs on HP ProLiant servers running, in turn, Windows Server 2003. The TradElect software itself is a custom blend of C# and.NET programs, which was created by Microsoft and Accenture, the global consulting firm. On the back-end, it relied on Microsoft SQL Server 2000. Its goal was to maintain sub-ten millisecond response times, real-time system speeds, for stock trades. It never, ever came close to achieving these performance goals."
BBCWatcher writes: Microsoft has long claimed that the mainframe is dead, slain by the company's Windows monopoly. Yet, apparently without any mirror nearby, Microsoft is now complaining through the Microsoft-funded Computer & Communications Industry Association that not only are mainframes not dead, but IBM is so anticompetitive that governments should intervene in the hyper-competitive server market. The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is worried that the trend toward cloud computing is introducing competition to the Windows franchise, favoring better positioned companies including IBM and Cisco. HP now talks about almost nothing but the IBM mainframe, with no Tukwila CPUs to sell until 2010. The global recession is encouraging more mainframe adoption as businesses slash IT costs, dominated by labor costs, and improve business execution. In 2008, IBM mainframe revenues rose 12.5% even whilst mainframe prices fell. (IBM shipped 25% more mainframe capacity than in 2007. Other server sales reports are not so good.) IBM mainframes can run multiple operating systems concurrently including Linux and, more recently, OpenSolaris.
BBCWatcher writes: Can data be encrypted in a way that allows any calculation to be performed on the scrambled information without unscrambling it? It's a simple concept that sounds impossible, but if it were possible businesses and individuals could then protect their secrets yet still perform Web searches, medical studies, financial risk assessments, and many other tasks. Computer scientists call this idea "fully homomorphic encryption," and it was first envisioned 30 years ago by Ronald Rivest, one of RSA's coinventors. Rivest and two coauthors thought it was probably impossible. However, Craig Gentry at IBM Research recently discovered a solution, although at present the solution requires too much computing horsepower for common adoption. Nonetheless, Rivest now predicts the remaining engineering problems will be solved, yielding fully homomorphic encryption products and services. Crypto experts believe this breakthrough will make encryption much more convenient and more widespread.
BBCWatcher writes: Intel is putting on the bravest possible face as the company announces yet another delay shipping Tukwila, the long promised next iteration of Itanium. Tukwila-rebooted — improved (promise!) over the Tukwila that never shipped — will not ship until 2010, even as Intel's own Nehalem EX CPUs likely beat Tukwila to market. The delays hurt HP, the sole remaining major Itanium OEM, the most. IBM and Oracle/Sun will benefit the most. Analysts continuedtosavage Itanium. A sample: "That's not to say that those shops which are using the Itanium aren't in their right mind. Heck, that'd be like saying that people still using IBM's OS/2 weren't in their right mind, or people still running CP/M on Apricots. No, they're all in their right minds — they're just living in a parallel universe where these products somehow still matter."
BBCWatcher writes: Mainframers are still catching up to the sad news that Vern Watts, the "Father of IMS," died suddenly. He was 77. Vern "retired" from IBM in 2004, but he still worked at IBM two days per week (and three days per week at ScaleDB) up until his death. Incredibly that's over 53 years of continuous IBM service. His famous child, IMS, is now entering its 11th major version. IMS's Chief Architect got it right: IMS gracefully evolved from a 1960s Saturn V rocket parts inventory system into a globally popular, extreme performance, zero downtime transaction manager and database with XML, SOAP, Java programming, and JDBC support, among other modern features, while retaining backward compatibility. IMS is reportedly IBM's highest revenue software product (and growing). What have you done with your life?
BBCWatcher writes: Last election, DailyKos poster craigf suffered four acts of vandalism against his political yard signs. This election he's taking no chances. He illustrates how to rig an Obama yard sign to emit a piercing screech should anybody pilfer or destroy it. This hack requires a wire hangar, fishing line or string, a $5 battery-powered personal alarm from Circuit City (or equivalent), and, of course, duct tape. As an extra-cost option you can add a motion-activated camera to record any sign attackers.
BBCWatcher writes: When Sun released Solaris to the open source community in the form of OpenSolaris, would anyone have guessed that it would soon wind up running on IBM System z mainframes? Amazingly, that milestone has now been achieved. Sine Nomine Associates is making its first release of OpenSolaris for System z available for free and public download. Source code is also available.
OpenSolaris for System z requires a System z9 or z10 mainframe and z/VM, the hypervisor that's nearly universal to mainframe Linux installations. (The free, limited term z/VM Evaluation Edition is available for z10 machines.) Like Linux, OpenSolaris will run on reduced price IFL processors. For the record, Linux moved to the mainframe almost nine years before OpenSolaris.