Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

The System z10 EC

A Complete History Of Mainframe Computing
By
The System z10 EC

While this article is supposed to be a history of big computers, this last entry is about a computer that is still being sold today. But it was sold yesterday too, and that's history, right? So, let's and take a look at IBM's biggest and baddest computer on the planet, the System z10 EC.

In this day and age, it's hard to imagine a physically large computer, but IBM did manage to create a 30 square ft. beast that weighed in at over 5,000 pounds and consumed  27,500 watts of power. Still not impressed? How about 1,520 GB of memory? Yes, that's a bit more than the 6 GB of most Core i7-based enthusiast boxes. Well, actually, that's a bit more than the average hard disk of a PC with the Nehalem. It can also have 1,024 ESCON, 336 FICON Express4, 336 FICON Express2, 120 FICON Express, 96 OSA-Express3, and 48 OSA-Express2 channels. That's more I/O than the X58, wouldn't you agree? Maybe several orders of magnitude more? This amazing machine can even host up to 16 virtual LANs in one machine.

Needless to say, these computers far exceed your normal server and, in fact, consolidate many smaller x86-processor machines. Rather than fading into oblivion, mainframes are finding customers that never used them before and wish to consolidate their x86 servers for space and energy savings. The flexibility of these servers are truly impressive, as one can stock them with up to 64 integrated facility for Linux (IFL) processors if Linux is the choice of operating systems or add up to 32 zAAP processors to assist with integration of Web apps using Java or XML with backend databases. There also can be up to 32 zIIP processors for data and transaction processing and network workloads, which are often used for ERP, CRM, and XML applications and IPSec data encryption.

The main processor, the z10 processor unit chip, has a rich CISC design that can execute 894 instructions, 668 of which are hardwired. The processor, in a nod to the ENIAC, even supports hardware decimal floating point operations, which can limit rounding errors and is much faster than using binary and converting. On top of all this, it can still run software written for the System/360, which is now 45 years old, and the amazingly solid MVS operating system, although it's now called z/OS. One can have up to 64 of these 4.4 GHz quad-core monsters running, designed for 99.999% uptime. It is no wonder these machines are selling well, as they offer incredible reliability, excellent and flexible performance, capacity that is hard to imagine, and very advanced, yet rock-solid software.

As suggested, virtualization capabilities on these machines are far beyond those of mere mortal servers. Naturally, they can run multiple operating systems, including Linux, z/OS (which includes a full version of UNIX), z/VM, and OpenSolaris, but more than that, they are capable of hot-swapping capacity non-disruptively and on the fly when one partition needs more capacity. One can even bring extra processors online for short periods of burst activity, and schedule them for certain times of the day, if there are known peaks.

These remarkable machines have capabilities that are so advanced that it might be difficult to get your mind around it. Forgetting for a moment the remarkable performance and flexibility of these machines, it is still dumbfounding how reliable they are. They feature, for example, something called "lock-stepping," when each result-oriented instruction is run twice and the results are compared to make sure they are the same. If they are not, the instruction is re-executed and the computer attempts to locate where the error occurred. It can even switch in-flight instructions to other processors, thus eliminating any negative effects of the error from the user’s perspective. More than this, when used in a parallel sysplex (clustering up to 32 mainframes into one logical image), one can update all the software and hardware on any mainframe without any downtime or disruption at all.

Only in the sense that these magnificent machines make the average desktop machine look small by comparison are they dinosaurs. They are far more advanced, powerful, flexible, capacious, and useful than the PCs we all know and love, not only in hardware, but in the incredible stability of the system software. They still are very much part of the backbone of computing and show absolutely no signs of death. On the contrary, their sales increase every year. In fact, how could it be any other way?

Mainframes arguably express man's highest achievement, not only in the amazing amount of thought and intelligence invested in them, but also in the sublime role they have had, and still have, on human life, and the endeavors of our kind. Perhaps rather than dinosaurs, they are like something even older. Like diamonds, they are a combination of many ordinary parts, that when combined in a certain way, through nature or extraordinary thought, become something far greater than the sum of ordinary.

See more See less
Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Photo reports comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 71 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Ramar , June 26, 2009 7:39 AM
    Wonderful article, thanks Tom's. =]

    Killed a good hour of my day, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • 11 Hide
    pugwash , June 26, 2009 8:17 AM
    Good article, however although not quite "Complete". There is no mention of Collosus (which was used to break Enigma codes from 1944) or The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, which was the world's first stored-program computer which ran its first program in June 1948.
  • 10 Hide
    1ce , June 26, 2009 7:55 AM
    Really cool. One observation, on page 7 I think the magnetic drum is rotating 12,500 revolutions per minute, not per second....If my harddrive could spin at 12,500 revolutions per second I'm sure it could do all sorts of amazing things like flying or running Crysis.
Other Comments
  • -9 Hide
    seboj , June 26, 2009 6:50 AM
    Quote:
    Mainframes arguably express man's highest achievement


    But will it Blend?
  • 12 Hide
    Ramar , June 26, 2009 7:39 AM
    Wonderful article, thanks Tom's. =]

    Killed a good hour of my day, and I very much enjoyed it.
  • 10 Hide
    1ce , June 26, 2009 7:55 AM
    Really cool. One observation, on page 7 I think the magnetic drum is rotating 12,500 revolutions per minute, not per second....If my harddrive could spin at 12,500 revolutions per second I'm sure it could do all sorts of amazing things like flying or running Crysis.
  • 11 Hide
    pugwash , June 26, 2009 8:17 AM
    Good article, however although not quite "Complete". There is no mention of Collosus (which was used to break Enigma codes from 1944) or The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, which was the world's first stored-program computer which ran its first program in June 1948.
  • 2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , June 26, 2009 9:11 AM
    So the ABC was in fact the first mobile computer? The picture does show wheels under the table at least :)  But I guess netbooks are easier to handle, and have batteries
  • 2 Hide
    dunnody , June 26, 2009 10:11 AM
    I am with pugwash - its a good article but why does it seem like it is a bit US centric, no mention of Alan Turning or "Baby" and the Enigma code cracking machines of Bletchley Park
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , June 26, 2009 11:47 AM
    Err what about the Zuse Z3?
  • 2 Hide
    candide08 , June 26, 2009 12:48 PM
    I agree with others, in that I am surprised that there was not even a mention of a Turing machine or other very early "computers".

    Surely they qualified as Mainframes of their times?
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 26, 2009 1:11 PM
    It's a shame that multiplication, addition and division benchmarks are not persistently noted throughout the article.

    I know that now a days it's very much dependent on software design, but it would still be nice to follow the progression in terms of calculation power of the machines.
  • 2 Hide
    theholylancer , June 26, 2009 2:05 PM
    25 pages??? i love ad block but damn this is annoying
  • 2 Hide
    vinnyny , June 26, 2009 2:20 PM
    Where can we get an 80/80 of this article without all of the noise? No PDF?
  • -4 Hide
    scook9 , June 26, 2009 2:27 PM
    So.....can it play Crysis?

    Out of curiosity, since its a metric I am more familiar with, what would the TeraFLOPS rating be in the newest and bestest from IBM. And how much would one of those bad boys set you back in the wallet.

    Was a very educational and interesting article.
  • 0 Hide
    lamorpa , June 26, 2009 3:04 PM
    "The 704 was quite fast, being able to perform 4,000 integer multiplications or divides per second. However, as mentioned, it was also capable of doing floating point arithmetic natively and could perform almost 12,000 floating-point additions or subtractions per second. More than this, the 704 added index registers, which not only dramatically sped up branches, but also reduced program development time (since this was handled in hardware now)."

    Many of these statements are sure to be wrong. 1) For sure, it would not be faster at floating point than integer. 2) Index registers have to do with memory addressing, not branching.
  • 7 Hide
    ta152h , June 26, 2009 3:33 PM
    First, I agree with the title being misleading, and I apologize for it. It was never intended to be a complete guide, which would be virtually impossible. I don't know why that title was chosen.

    The choice of computers was U.S. centric, because computers were U.S. centric. I chose only one mechanical computer, and it was made by IBM, since they were the dominant company. To add more computers would have been boring, and none of them were important technological milestones. So, while they might be specifically interesting to you, I was of the opinion too many computers from the same time frame would be boring. I almost chose the EDSAC over the EDVAC, but, went with the first design over the first implementation.

    With regards to the index registers, "the IBM 704 added index registers and a “TSX” instruction that would branch to an address but leave the address of the TSX in an index register. A single unmodified branch could use that index register value to return."

    Loops involve branching, branching involves memory addressing.

    With regards to floating point vis-a-vis integer, you need to be more careful about what you're sure of. For one, multiplies and divides are generally slower, being much more complex. But, more to the point, this information is available directly from IBM.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 26, 2009 4:08 PM
    As one who live the mainframe era from the 2k machines for $500K...this story is incomplete without the story of the competition that was the force behind the commercial introduction at a furious pace of things we take for granted today.

    Any mention of mainframes without the Honeywell H-800 series, the H200 series or Multics leaves out systems that have had a large influence on computing as we know it. The H-800 was one of the first multiprocessing systems of the late '50s, the H-200 was Honeywell's answer to the 1401 in the '60s and Multics merely contributed much of the hardware architecture for the Intel CPU used in today's PCs and foreshadowed UNIX and many of the development tools we use today. I saw no mention of GE and their 600-6000 series. And NCR. (Remember the term "BUNCH" as the competitors to IBM.)

    So starting in the '50s, you should also have the history of the BUNCH woven in even to their demise. Not every great idea originated from IMB (though many did).

  • 2 Hide
    jackshaftoe , June 26, 2009 5:01 PM
    What, and no mention of Lawrence Waterhouse and his work during WW2??? :p 
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 26, 2009 5:10 PM
    Nice article, it was fun to review that history. I would have added mention of the groundbreaking Cray machines, especially the seminal Cray-1 (and it's successor X-MP) as the first "supercomputer." The X-MP looked like a futuristic chaise lounge with the main circuits in a center column surrounded by a circular padded bench. They were so arranged to reduce interconnecting wire lengths, as the speed was limited by the time it took electrons to travel through the interconnects...a speed of light limitation! The later Cray-2 was unique in that it was completely immersed in a bath of liquid Flourinert to cool the dense circuitry.
  • 2 Hide
    jsloan , June 26, 2009 5:38 PM
    the first computer programmers were all women!

    http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3951187&page=1
  • 2 Hide
    aspireonelover , June 26, 2009 5:38 PM
    Great Article! I learned something new today! I've never been so "into" the computer history before.
    Thanks Rich Arzoomanian for writing this article.
  • 3 Hide
    jsloan , June 26, 2009 5:54 PM
    all jokes aside, this is the best tom's hardware article i have read to date. thanks for taking the time, effort and expense for putting it together.
Display more comments