IBM claims mainframe sales have been the company's bright spot during a rough year for hardware vendors. Customers have come looking for a way to run a number of applications such as CRM, ERP and databases off of one larger server instead of numerous small systems, said Rich Lechner, vice-president of sales and marketing for the zSeries at IBM.
While mainframes typically start over $1m (£0.7m), IBM has brought out the z800 server for $375,000 (£261,675) with a new version of its mainframe operating system called z/OS.e, which has been tweaked for workload consolidation. The server will come with a software licence, maintenance contract and one of the four processors "turned on" for that price, Lechner said. The z800 will be available at the end of March.
IBM will sell eight different configurations of the z800, which serve as complementary systems to the Linux-only mainframe IBM announced last month. Like the z800, the Linux-only mainframe is designed to run multiple applications such as print serving and file serving on a system that starts under $400,000 (£279,125).
IBM's move to revitalise its mainframe campaign did not come as a surprise to one analyst that said the company appears to have carved out a niche in the market.
"IBM believes that there is a market for putting new types of applications on the mainframe and there seems to be some revenue numbers to back it up," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.
IBM's success, however, has not gone unnoticed by its competitors. Sun Microsystems and Compaq have been particularly aggressive in trying to take some of the mainframe pie by offering powerful Unix servers in Sun's case and large clusters of Intel-based servers at Compaq. Sun and Compaq claim their approach gives customers the same kind of performance and hardware uptime as a mainframe but at a lower cost.
"The problem is that in that space IBM is facing a lot of price competition against Unix, Windows and Linux on relatively speaking commodity hardware," Haff said. "The trick is to drop the price where it needs to be and try selling to Big Blue shops where there is already IBM expertise and comfort level with their products."
Even the entry-level configuration of the z800 should lets users ditch dozens of Unix or Intel servers and save on both data centre space and management costs, Lechner said.
IBM is also including its Parallel Sysplex technology for networking multiple mainframes together with the z800, which could be used to help with data recovery tasks or for extra power.