Dell Wyse 5070 – A Thin Client for Global Markets

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 16, 2018

The PC market is one where form tends to dominate function–where pedestrian features are often dressed up in progressively stylish wrappers to emphasize varying attributes—thinness, lightness, specific application support—and attract certain customers. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. In fact, it’s a model that has long typified many parts of the consumer PC and electronics markets. But it also differs distinctly from thin clients where function leads or even dominates form.

Why is that important or even worth discussing? For a number of reasons. First, though many people regard general purpose PCs as ideal solutions for productivity tasks, there are critical differences separating “ideal” and “best”, especially when it comes to the needs of organizations. That point is readily acknowledged at the high end of the market where engineers, financial specialists and others have long utilized powerful workstations instead of the garden variety PCs provided to their office mates.

But it is also true for collaboration/knowledge workers and others who typically use a few simple, necessary workplace applications that require modest or even minimal compute resources. Continue reading

Dell EMC, Microsoft and the Key Importance of IoT Partner Ecosystems

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 25, 2018

The direction of the tech industry’s brightest spotlights tends to be fickle. That’s no surprise since they’re often operated by marketing departments more interested in claiming stylistic innovation than delivering substantial value. But it doesn’t mean that real work and progress aren’t being accomplished. That’s certainly true in the case of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, especially those focusing on vertical-specific scenarios and use cases.

Sometimes called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions, these offerings are typically designed to simplify and streamline functions that are common in certain kinds of workplaces, like factories and manufacturing facilities and those unique to specific verticals and sectors, including agriculture, automotive, oil/gas and pharmaceuticals. Continue reading

Intel at RSA 2018: Taking Security to the Silicon Level

By Charles King Pund-IT, Inc.  April 18, 2018

When it comes to digital security, the past year or so has delivered multiple lessons with a single conclusion: that whatever people, including individual consumers to business organizations to the IT vendors who serve them, have done or are doing regarding IT security, it isn’t enough.

Taken in total, the situation may appear hopeless, but it sets the scene for the new silicon-level security technologies and initiatives that Intel announced this week at the RSA 2018 conference. Continue reading

IBM Advances its IBM Z Cross-Market Evolution

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 11, 2018

Server platforms are anything but equal so it’s no surprise that they evolve differently. On the Industry Standard side of the aisle, new/updated Intel and AMD CPUs tend to lead the evolutionary charge but increasingly, other critical technologies also lend a hand. In fact, leading edge components, including memory, storage interconnects and GPUs all play critical roles in supporting the key workloads and modern applications that keenly interest many organizations.

The situation is considerably different in systems that leverage proprietary compute technologies, including IBM’s Z and Power Systems solutions. For one thing, generational changes in processor architecture tend to advance at a slower pace. For another, platform development encompasses and aims to take full advantage of other system-related efforts. Finally, vendors typically work closely with longtime customers and partners to ensure that upcoming solutions are well-attuned to their requirements and marketplace shifts.

IBM Z servers are also a special case because whatever changes may be considered, the company has never messed with the platform’s business critical reliability, availability and scalability (RAS) features. That’s why both IBM Z performance and its enterprise customer base remain so resolutely rock-solid. But IBM has also demonstrated, time and again that even a rock can change for the better. The new IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper II models announced this week are intriguing examples of that dynamic.

Inside and out – z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II

The new ZR1 and Rockhopper II systems share a fair amount of DNA with previous “business class” IBM solutions, a designation that appeared first in 2005 during the System z9 family launch, splitting the platform by configuration size into small “business” and large “enterprise” offerings.

Keep in mind that a “small” z9 BC was still an enterprise-class server. It simply reflected IBM’s belief that scaled-down, affordable mainframes could provide significant value to a variety of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Plus, the z9 BC offered a migration option to IBM customers with vital legacy investments that wanted modern system features but didn’t want or plan to significantly expand their mainframe infrastructures.

However, the new ZR1 and Rockhopper II qualify as notable departures from previous IBM offerings in terms of physical size, compute capacity and cost. The company’s decision to house the new systems in 19-inch industry standard, single-frame cabinets with conventional power and cooling requirements means that ZR1 and Rockhopper II solutions can be deployed outside traditional, enterprise-class “raised floor” facilities in environments.

That’s a big deal for SMEs with more modest IT requirements and budgets than larger enterprises but it should open doors for IBM among new customer classes, including public cloud companies and managed service providers (MSPs) where single frame system cabinets are the norm.

The flexible sizing of ZR1 and Rockhopper II and modest starting costs also lend a hand in this regard. For example, IBM notes that it is using a new “feature-based sizing” methodology for configuring/pricing ZR1 and Rockhopper II solutions. Entry level systems are available with 4 to 30 processing units (“PUs” a designation that covers both central processors and co-processors for specialized functions/workloads) and support compute capacity starting at 88 MIPs (millions of instructions per second).

What does it cost? That’s hard to say since, like other IBM Z offerings, ZR1 and Rockhopper II solutions will be configured according to specific customer requirements. That point aside, IBM is showing far more flexibility in regard to both cost and configuration options than it has in previous generation Z servers.

Why so? Two reasons spring to mind. First, IBM’s collaboration with over 80 clients during the ZR1 and Rockhopper II development process likely turned up evidence that rethinking sizing and pricing was warranted. Additionally, it plays into the company’s focus on greenfield markets and commercial opportunities for the new systems. That’s a pitch we’ve seen IBM make before, but the new capabilities offered by the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II make it appear more serious this time around.

Focusing on security and cloud

What are those new capabilities? Though they’re not entirely exclusive from one another, let’s split them into security and cloud computing features. On the security side, IBM is focusing on capabilities that are unique to IBM Z; Secure Service Containers and what the company calls “encryption at scale.”

The former is already featured on IBM LinuxONE systems as a central part of IBM’s blockchain solutions and services. Secure Service Containers for Linux offer a separate, secure framework for applications and data that once configured are isolated from even privileged users and can only be accessed via well-defined APIs.

In other words, by using Secure Service Containers for Linux, an organization’s critical data encryption keys can be safely protected from both external attackers and internal prying eyes, minimizing any risks of tampering or damage from attacks, including malware.

What is new in the z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II is that Secure Service Containers now support generic containerized applications, rather than just specific pre-configured applications such as blockchain. That qualifies as a significant broadening of the workloads and data that can be securely protected with the new IBM Z solutions.

Other vendors offer solutions for encrypting the data and applications residing on specific servers and storage arrays, but IBM takes it a long step further. By leveraging the IBM Z architecture, such as on-chip crypto, the company can ensure that all of a server’s resources, including data, applications, databases and cloud services, can be easily encrypted all the time, with minimal impact on system or workload performance.

That makes IBM Z’s “encryption at scale” far more valuable for SME customers, especially those who need robust, reliable business critical application performance at often massive scale. But it also has implications for other IBM customers, including those offering pubic cloud services and SMEs deploying private clouds.

In fact, the company noted that the new solutions will be deployed in its own IBM Cloud facilities to support enterprise-level encryption and security services, including the new IBM Cloud Hyper Protect offerings announced at THINK 2018.

ZR1 and Rockhopper II systems also offer other key cloud features and capabilities. For example, Rockhopper II is a Docker-certified infrastructure for Docker EE (enterprise edition) that has been scale-tested with up to 330,000 Docker containers. That should be more than enough capacity for organizations exploring or actively pursuing modern application development and micro-services architecture solutions.

In addition, the IBM z14 ZR1 and Rockhopper II also support a new “16U Reserved” feature that leaves 16U of rack space open for additional server, storage and networking switch options. That means the new systems can be easily configured as “cloud in a box” solutions for specific enterprise applications and use cases, or cloud service delivery.

Final analysis

At one level, the new IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper II both find the company doing what it has done continually for nearly two decades—reinventing the IBM Z platform to meet the new and emerging needs of enterprise clients of virtually every size. However, rather than simply scaling-down enterprise-class systems for SMEs as it has done in the past, IBM is taking a significantly different approach this time around.

The company’s new “feature-based sizing” and pricing should make ZR1 and Rockhopper II intriguing options for numerous SMEs. More importantly, supporting unique enterprise-class security, encryption and cloud computing functionalities on the new systems could open the door among organizations that would never have otherwise considered IBM solutions.

As it has many times in the past, these fresh solutions find the company reinventing enterprise-class computing for new audiences while retaining and extending the key features its platforms have always supported. As a result, the z14 ZR1 and LinuxONE Rockhopper II should be winners for SME customers, cloud computing service providers and IBM.

© 2018 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.

New Dell PCs – Predictable Evolution and 8th Gen Intel Core

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 4, 2018

The concept of “law” means different things to different people. For some, laws are rules defining conventional/unconventional behavior. For others, they are immutable strictures or even barriers begging to be tested. But I’d argue that the most important (and, ironically, the least discussed) aspect of law is its predictability.

That is, laws clearly delineate expectable outcomes with certain events or behaviors. You “can’t drive ‘55”? Don’t be surprised by a traffic ticket and hefty fine when you’re caught. Feel like scamming strangers, neighbors or family members? Maybe a change of scenery for the next 5-10 years would do you good. Rush hour traffic frustrations might make road rage seem reasonable. But in real life with the cops on hand? Not so much.

Which brings me to Moore’s Law—the best remembered contribution Intel co-founder Dr. Gordon Moore made to his company and industry. Continue reading

New Apple Education Push Barely Earns a Passing Grade

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  April 4, 2018

“You can’t go home again” is an old truism whose veracity is more often absent than evident. Think of the Prodigal Son (or daughter). Not to mention the tens of thousands of kids still living with their folks due to clashes between their employment expectations and real-world costs.

This isn’t to say that homeplace returnees won’t be subject to questioning: What did you learn when you were away? What are you bringing back with you? What do you expect your reception will be? And perhaps most importantly, how did things change while you were gone?

These are valid points to consider in light of Apple’s recent attempt to return to classrooms nationwide and compete in an education market it once led and even dominated. Continue reading

IBM THINK 2018 and the Era of Man + Machine

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 28, 2018

Computing “eras” are a common concept among those who work in or focus on the IT industry. One progression starts with the mainframe era (late 1950s to the present) and the client/server era (1980s to present). However, the notion breaks down a bit in the third era which is variously called the digital, information and Internet era due to the inclusion of divergent ecommerce, cloud computing, mobility, analytics, IoT and other essentially web-enabled processes.

That confusion isn’t especially surprising since the first two eras are associated with specific systems or platforms that fundamentally altered the way enterprises and other organizations operated. In contrast, web-enabled compute processes tend to be squishier in terms of the platforms they require which continue to undergo massive evolutionary changes.

That touches on a key point of IBM’s THINK 2018 conference last week in Las Vegas. Continue reading

Apps Go Better with AI – IBM, Apple and Coca-Cola

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 21, 2018

One of the most profound corporate IT shifts during the past decade is in developers’ roles as agents of business and technological change. That began with the critical positions developers took in cloud computing and bring your own device (BYOD) adoption. The process accelerated as organizations leveraged their developers to shift focus from massive, monolithic business applications to quickly created, continually evolving apps and mobile services.

As a result, how and how well businesses support developers and their communities have become important points that can eventually impact a company’s market position and ability to compete. While there’s no single, unchanging answer, how vendors work and work together to facilitate developers’ efforts is an important issue to track. The latest evolution of the four-year-old partnership between IBM and Apple certainly qualifies in that regard. Continue reading

Intel Details Next Steps in Spectre and Meltdown Fixes

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 21, 2018

The qualities required for business leadership, or leadership of any sort, aren’t exactly hard to come by. But in high tech today, these qualities are all too often recognized by their absence. The industry lionizes entrepreneurs and “innovators” even when they veer off the rails into sociopathic “bro culture” behavior. Then there are industry mainstays that love the spotlight so long as they themselves manage the controls.

Take, for example, Facebook’s ongoing run of bad news cycles concerning the company’s relationship with advertising partner, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), and its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica. That includes explosive reports published over the weekend by The Guardian and the New York Times profiling Christopher Wylie, a former executive at Cambridge Analytica.

Wylie detailed how his employer harvested data from 50+ million Facebook users in the U.S., then developed sophisticated individual psychological profiles to promote the 2016 election of Donald Trump via often dodgy news stories. On Monday morning, Facebook shares shed nearly 7% of their value, pulling down the rest of the tech sector.

Where has Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg been in all this? Mostly out of sight, though whether this qualifies as corporate damage control, “leading from behind” or a simple CYA exercise remains to be seen.

What are the qualities of successful business leadership? How about forthrightness, taking responsibility for your own and your organization’s actions, respect for fellow workers, partners and customers, recognizing others’ contributions and bringing out the best in them—are all values one learns early on. If not, there are virtual mountains of books, slide decks and Ted Talks extolling and offering various takes on these well-worn issues.

Happily for IT customers, these are clearly present in Intel’s handling of its recent problems with Spectre and Meltdown exploits. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich recently published another update of the company’s efforts to mitigate and fix the underlying issues related to the exploits, providing something of a master class of sorts in how corporate responsibility can and should work. Continue reading

Lenovo‘s Cool Fix for HPC Energy Consumption

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  March 7, 2018

High performance computing (HPC) and supercomputing haven’t always been closely associated with energy efficiency. In fact, for the first four decades (beginning in the early 1960s) of commercial supercomputing, owners were far more concerned with systems’ computational capabilities than the electrical energy they consumed.

That was mainly because of the unique value of custom-built systems like the Cray CDC 6600 (delivered in 1964) which performed highly complex calculations faster than most people could imagine. In addition, the heady price tags of supercomputers limited interest in the systems to any but the deepest-pocketed large enterprises and government labs—organizations that cared more about results than virtually any cost.

External events began to change that dynamic beginning in the early 2000s. Those points resonate in Lenovo’s new ThinkSystem SD650, a high-density commercial solution designed to maximize compute performance for HPC workloads and applications while minimizing energy consumption. Let’s take a look at how power issues are impacting HPC and supercomputing, what Lenovo has achieved and how its new ThinkSystem SD650 addresses customers’ energy constraints and concerns. Continue reading