IBM Ready to Launch First 64-Bit Mainframe

IBM this week will announce Freeway, its next-generation System 390 mainframe. The server will use IBM's first 64-bit mainframe processors and come with greatly expanded memory capabilities for boosting application performance.

Each Freeway server will be capable of supporting up to 16 general-purpose processors plus four processors dedicated to specific tasks such as I/O processing, said John Phelps, an analyst at Gartner Group (US).

The expectation is that each processor -- or engine -- will deliver 250 MIPS to 270 MIPS, compared with the 200-MIPS rating of IBM's current Generation 6 mainframes.

Pricing Efficiency

One of the most crucial aspects of the server will be its support for new pricing models, Phelps said.

The server will enable users to tie application workloads to specific processors or sets of processors in a way that is verifiable and measurable by both users and software vendors.

This should make it possible for software vendors to charge for their software based on the portion of the mainframe that it runs on rather than on the capacity of the whole system, which is its current practice.

If vendors accept the technology, Freeway could pave the way for much lower, usage-based mainframe software pricing in the future, Phelps said.

From a pure technology perspective, one of the most significant enhancements of the new server is its support for greater virtual and main memory, said one user, who wished not to be identified.

The expectation that the new servers will support anywhere from 128GB to 512GB of real main memory initially -- with 64-bit virtual-memory support becoming available later -- should greatly expand on the 2GB real-memory support available on current 31-bit mainframes, the user said.

As a result, users will be able to run large applications such as databases much faster and with much less complexity than before, he said.

IBM confirmed that it will announce Freeway next week but offered no further details.