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IBM dedicates module to Java on mainframes

A new zSeries module serves as a dedicated processor for Java applications and debuts in time for the 40th anniversary of the mainframe.

IBM has created a module to handle Java for its mainframe computers and has come out with a budget system for midsize companies to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the mainframe.

The zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP) is essentially a dedicated processor for Java applications. Java runs on IBM mainframes now but has not had dedicated hardware. The zAAP costs $125,000 per microprocessor.

The new product comes on the eve of a celebration that IBM will host Wednesday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of the S/360--the computer that put the mainframe on the map. Released in 1964, the S/360 was one of IBM's most ambitious projects up to that time. The company invested $5 billion into the project and built five new plants in the process. At the time, IBM's annual revenue was only $3.2 billion.

The S/360 differed from other computers at the time in that it could run several applications on the same machine--and at the same time.

The zAAP module also underscores the ongoing evolution of the computer line. Java, Linux and IBM's WebSphere software platform are all becoming integral parts of corporate mainframe, while the "green screen" is being retired.

In addition, IBM has released a new mainframe and storage system for midsize customers.

The new z890 contains many features found in the z990 mainframe, formerly code-named T-Rex, that came out last year, but it is aimed at medium-size businesses. Like the z990, the z890, for instance, sports On/Off Capacity on Demand, which allows an administrator to temporarily deploy, then retire, an extra processor to handle a computing surge.

The new machine is the successor to the z800 and will substantially improve performance while taking up about 30 percent less space.

IBM did not provide pricing on the z890 but said it would cost less than the z990. IBM mainframes generally start at $1 million. The z890 will be sold at 28 capacity levels, so configurations will vary by customer.

Although more standardized servers have eaten into the mainframe market, the ornate machines continue to plug along, at least for IBM. The company sold 2,700 mainframes in 2003 for $4.3 billion in revenue, according to IDC, up from 2,300 systems and $4 billion in revenue in 2002. By contrast, many earlier competitors have gone on to hardware heaven.

The IBM zSeries of mainframes are considered servers, but they differ substantially from its Power-based or Intel-based servers. The computers rely on their own chips, z/OS operating system and components that are not found on other machines. While this sort of customization raises the price, mainframes generally can handle many workloads more efficiently, according to analysts.

Additionally, IBM unfurled the ESS 750 storage system for medium-size businesses. The system holds between 1.1 terabytes and 4.6 terabytes of data and can be upgraded while operating.