IBM eyes e-comm apps with new mainframe

IBM will soon significantly bulk up its mainframe software and hardware to better handle massive e-business Web sites.

While many details remain sketchy, in a briefing with Network World last week IBM executives detailed new plans for the next-generation S/390 mainframe machine, dubbed Freeway, which will have 64-bit CPUs - double the size of CPUs on IBM's current high-capacity boxes. The Freeway boxes may go to market under the name G7.

Also coming is a new iteration of the mainframe's operating system, OS/390 Version 2 Release 10, optimised to run on the Freeway architecture. It will support quality-of-service (QoS) features for key users or workgroups in a network, and give mainframe shops more extensive security, Java monitoring and storage capabilities. Release 10 will also have improved mainframe cluster - or sysplex in IBM parlance - management support to make sure key users or workgroups get priority access to network applications.

Facing stagnating growth for its traditional mainframe cash cow, IBM is hoping Freeway will attract enterprise and ISP customers needing industrial-strength e-commerce servers. Indeed, in its annual report, the firm says server revenue, which includes S/390 numbers, declined 17.9% in 1999. Recently, CEO Louis Gerstner expressed his expectations about Freeway, saying it will be able to execute "very, very sophisticated load balancing to handle huge business workloads with unpredictable peaks."

Included in OS/390 Version 2 Release 10 will be an enhanced Workload Manager, the software program that controls access to mainframe cluster applications.

Based on QoS policies written by IS staff, Workload Manager will be able to prioritize sessions for key users communicating with the mainframe based on their IP addresses, directing them to the least busy IP stack in the sysplex, as needed.

These changes will assist companies in upholding service-level agreements, says Jerrie Stewart, product manager for OS/390. Previously, Workload Manager could only prioritize applications, and was unable to create different classes of service based on IP addresses.

Additional enhancements include the ability to monitor traffic coming into a sysplex and detect any irregular patterns in the flow of network traffic, such as excessive use by a single user. Another feature will automatically restart crashed virtual machines in a sysplex and reroute sessions around them - a procedure that is done manually today.

The ability to implement such QoS features is crucial, says Bill O'Donnell, a senior IS consultant with the State of Wisconsin's mainframe-based information technology services department in Madison. If for some reason a processor on a mainframe reaches peak capacity, O'Donnell immediately needs to be able to decide who gets access to resources and who can wait.

Also coming in Release 10 will be the ability to directly monitor the performance of Java applications running on the mainframe. Previously, Java statistics had to be collected in a database and observed there, O'Donnell says.

IBM's Stewart also says OS/390 will now support Kerberos, a standard 'Net authentication and authorisation mechanism. This permits network or Internetwide authentication and authorisation regardless of the network operating system.

The next-generation Freeway machine will be available before year's end; OS/390 Version 2 Release 10 will be available at the end of September. Upgrades will be free to users of previous releases of Version 2.

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