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IBM hardware boosts database on mainframes

Addition of specialized processor is latest move by company to ensure the relevance of its expensive but powerful mainframe line.

IBM announced a $125,000 specialized processor Thursday that boosts the ability of its top-end mainframe server line to run the company's DB2 database software.

The module, called the System z9 Integrated Information Processor, or zIIP, accelerates several database operations in conjunction with the mainframe's z/OS operating system. Specifically, it significantly boosts the core tasks of business software from companies such as SAP, Collette Martin, zSeries product director, said in an interview.

"It's going to be a major kick in the pants," Martin said.

The technology addition is the latest move by IBM to ensure the relevance of its expensive but powerful mainframe line. The systems once were thought to be on the verge of extinction, but Big Blue has brought them back from the brink. The systems have significant competition, however, from increasingly powerful Unix servers that have steadily absorbed high-end features once reserved for mainframes.

IBM already offers two other $125,000 hardware accelerators for its mainframes. One, the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) announced in 2000, speeds up Linux. The other, the zSeries Application Assist Processor (zAAP), accelerates Java programs and arrived in 2004.

zIIP and the other accelerators aren't cheap, but neither are mainframes, and using them permits customers to free up the machine's regular processors for ordinary tasks.

Martin said zIIP accelerates three main types of tasks. First, the database portion of core business software for jobs such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management. Second are business intelligence tasks, in which companies sift through data as it arrives to find patterns such as unusual customer demand. And third are background database maintenance tasks to optimize how information is stored.