The venerable mainframe rolls on at IBM with the release of the z16 –


When you think of mainframes, you probably have a mental image from an old movie, with punched cards and a computer taking up a very large room. But the mainframe is still alive, and a viable product at IBM† Today, it’s much more streamlined and powerful, helping to run data-intensive workloads for the world’s largest industries, with use cases that may not be quite ready for the cloud yet.

IBM today unveiled the latest mainframe in its storied history, the z16† It runs on the IBM Telum processor, which the company released last summer. According to the company, the chip is optimized to run massive workloads and process 300 billion high-value financial transactions per day with just one millisecond of latency.

That’s for customers who have a serious need for speed with a lot of volume. The primary use that the company sells for this sample machine is real-time fraud prevention. Financial institutions, in particular, are the target customers, but Ric Lewis, SVP for IBM systems, says it’s just about every company that processes a lot of business-critical transactions.

“It’s still banking, insurance, public sector, government, healthcare, retail — anywhere you have really high transaction throughput, where you need security, reliability and the world’s best transaction processing,” Lewis said.

That adds up to the largest companies in the world, including two-thirds of the Fortune 100, 45 of the world’s top 50 banks, eight of the top 10 insurers, seven of the top 10 global retailers and eight of the top 10 telecom companies, which own mainframes. use, according to data provided by IBM. Most of those machines come from IBM.

1950s computer room with mainframe and punched card machine.

In about 1955, a female office worker sorts punched cards while two men talk near the console of a 1950s IBM 705 III mainframe computer owned by the United States Army. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

“What’s cool about this latest announcement is that we’ve now integrated AI inference specifically optimized for real-time fraud detection into the chip,” he said. The difference here is that there is usually a delay between the fraud being discovered and the consumer learning about it. IBM wants to change that with the z16. “Now that group of customers has access to data [that fraud could be occurring] in real time in the chip. It’s all powered by our proprietary VLSI chip called Telum that we announced recently [year]but this will be the first system to ship with that chip.”

Lewis says that while the cloud has been great for the industry, he believes there’s a whole class of businesses and applications where the cloud just isn’t a viable option, and for a certain percentage of that, a powerful mainframe like the z16 could be the answer. .

“There was a time when people said everything would end in the cloud, and I think what you’re seeing lately is people believed that data is everywhere. It won’t all be in the cloud. And actually the evolution of the whole computing landscape is more towards specialized infrastructure,” he said.

And of course, according to Lewis, it concerns specialized hardware such as his company’s z16. Sales of the company’s mainframes were down 6% from its most recent earnings report, but customers may have waited for the technology recycling that comes with this announcement before purchasing additional units.

The company said the z16 will be available to all customers on May 31, and it could be a test of Lewis’ view that some workloads will remain in a private data center running on mainframes for a while.