Big Iron to Drive Mobile Datastreams

January 27th, 2015 by · Leave a Comment

This article was authored by Stefan Hammond, and was originally posted on

The “computer” concept used to mean mainframes: giant machines kept in a special room guarded by technicians. Ordinary employees were given “dumb terminals”: keyboard/monitor combinations with wires that plugged into the computer room and controlled access to the “big iron” beasts that crunched the numbers.

Nowadays, we all have computers in our pockets (with integral radio transmitters/receivers), even if their main purpose often seems to be crunching candy-icons instead than numbers or transmitting photos of self rather than business data. But IBM’s latest offering uses a venerable tech to address new mobile datastreams.

Yes, we’re talking mainframes once again. Last week, IBM unveiled a new mainframe computer to “help customers to detect more fraud in real time and plow through billions of transactions generated each day by smartphones and tablets,” writes IDG’s James Niccolai.

The Dark Digital Knight

The z13 is IBM’s first new mainframe in almost three years, and to help it stand out, Big Blue wrapped the beast in an exoskeleton straight out of a Batman movie. Its polygonal exterior design and dark matte finish give it a “stealth” look sure to please any CEO. But it’s the horsepower that counts: according to Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM’s mainframe group: “[The z13] screams on traditional workloads like OLTP (online transaction processing), but we’ve also designed [it] for the explosive growth in mobile.”

Mauri says that each time a person hits the “buy” button on a smartphone app, it triggers a cascade of transactions behind the scenes involving credit card approvals, inventory and billing systems. The z13 can process 2.5 billion transactions per day, IBM claims.

Fraud detection using real-time analytics is another selling point. Mauri says the z13 will allow companies to analyze every transaction they process to detect instances of fraud.

Marty McFly’s “1.21 gigawatts”
It’s “back to the future” for Big Blue as they channel the ever-increasing data flows created by mobile through their latest mainframe iteration. The big data analytics capabilities of a massive mainframe are appealing. But of course there are many ways to crunch data in our present century, as opposed to the past.

What’s the specific appeal of the z13? Certainly, it’s a useful piece of kit, but with a price tag to match. Its stealth-tech shell is the polar opposite of the cute-bunny sheaths on the multiple mobiles it’s supposed to service. Is this look that appeals to the executives that approve tech budgets?

Perhaps, but there’s serious computing power available here. Mainframes are used by banks, airlines and other heavy data-crunchers. According to Niccolai: “The z13 gets a new processor design, faster I/O and the ability to address up to 10TB of memory…it can house up to 141 processor units in a single system and run as many as 8,000 virtual servers, the company said.”

It will be interesting to see the uptake for IBM’s new machine. Traditional mainframe users are major players in today’s economy—their use of tech tends to be conservative, and buying a bigger/better box every few years suits their philosophies.

Whatever its success and stealth-vibe sleekness, the new big box from Big Blue retains a cachet of old-school cool welcomed by many. If you’ve got the budget and the floorspace, it’s an impressive chunk of “big iron” to help feed the multitudes of tiny computer/radios in the pockets and purses of mobile Netizens everywhere.

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