IBM and the Enduring Value of Mainframe Computing

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  April 15, 2020

There has never been a time when the values of IBM’s Z mainframe solutions were clearer. As millions of organizations and billions of workers worldwide grapple with often unimaginable uncertainties, the remarkable resiliency, continuity, data privacy and security capabilities that define mainframe computing help ensure that companies can and will remain open for business.

Those same qualities are present, along with some notable new features, in IBM’s newest Z solutions—the z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III Model LT2. Those and other points highlight why mainframe systems have played central roles in successful businesses for decades, as well as why they are likely to be around for a good long time to come. Let’s consider why that’s the case.

Enterprise computing evolution and revolution

Why does the IBM Z enterprise platform continue to thrive and drive billions of dollars in annual high margin hardware, software and services revenues for the company and its partners? The short answer is because IBM consistently delivers mainframe systems that are both evolutionary and revolutionary.

To the former point, IBM Z systems have long been a premiere platform in terms of computing resiliency, availability and serviceability (RAS), critical points for enterprise clients. Other vendors’ server systems and technologies have made impressive performance strides but so has IBM’s Z system. While the performance differences between x86 and mainframe systems has arguably narrowed over the years, the Z systems’ evolving functionalities make the decision to continue and grow investments a no-brainer for most mainframe customers.

To the latter, IBM has long recognized that simply addressing clients’ current needs is a sure path to decline and obsolescence. Instead, the company has used the Z platform to enable and encourage revolutionary new capabilities. Those efforts began in earnest during the mid-1990s when IBM invested over $1B in Linux development, first delivered as solutions and services on its mainframe platform. More recently, the company has used the Z portfolio to enable and drive new digital business practices and hybrid cloud capabilities.

How does IBM decide where to focus mainframe-related development? To a significant degree, via “design thinking” interactions with key customers and constituencies. In the case of the new z15 platform initially launched last September, the company spent over 500 hours engaging more than 100 global IBM Z and LinuxONE customers. Those meetings included discussions with everyone from data center admins to senior executives about the hardware, OS and software features they wanted and needed in new mainframe systems. In other words, IBM recognizes that next gen computing revolutions need to be built from the ground-up.

Taking z15 and LinuxONE III down-market

These points were clear in September with the new z15 Model T01 and LinuxONE III LT1 solutions. They highlighted new capabilities, including increased physical compute capacity, high availability options, support for container-based development and applications (via the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform) and technologies that enable data assets to be “encrypted everywhere” regardless of location, both in transit and at rest and without impacting system performance.

The new z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 solutions support those same features and functions so what’s new and different? Mainly their size and capacity. Both can be configured with between 4 and 65 PUs (processor units) and from 64GB to 16TB of memory, meaning that systems can be sized to meet virtually any business or compute scenario. In addition, IBM Storage introduced new DS8900F all flash systems and IBM TS7770 tape systems that are deeply integrated with IBM Z and can be flexibly configured to support these smaller mainframes.

The z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 also debut an intriguing new feature, that will also be available on the z15 T01 and LinuxONE III LT1—IBM Secure Execution for Linux, a hardware-based security technology that creates isolated Trusted Execution Environments (TEE) that restrict access to business critical or sensitive data, but still allow administrators and developers to perform their jobs.

Why is this important? While businesses are rightfully concerned about being preyed upon by cyber-criminals and other malicious entities outside their firewalls, they should also be aware of the dangers posed by internal vulnerabilities.

In fact, IBM cites research it sponsored with the Ponemon Institute which suggests that since 2016 employee or contractor negligence incidents have grown by 40% while the average number of credential thefts has tripled. IBM Secure Execution for Linux can help mitigate potential internal dangers and can also be used to ensure the integrity of data and applications subject to stringent compliance regulations.

Final analysis

What’s the final takeaway? In essence, IBM’s new z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 are the latest iterations of the smaller mainframe configurations the company introduced in 2008 with its z10 BC (Business Class) systems. As was the case then, these new solutions are designed to satisfy customers who understand and require the notable capabilities that IBM’s Z systems offer but don’t have compute or capacity needs for a full-sized mainframe.

Conventional use cases for the z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 include companies planning upgrades of their legacy mainframe environments, as well as enterprises of every size and shape that recognize the benefits that can be achieved with industry’s most flexible, scalable and powerful high availability transaction platform. Additionally, support for Red Hat OpenShift 4.2 makes the z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 excellent solutions for business modernization, consolidation efforts, and hybrid cloud deployments.

Overall, the new z15 Model T02 and LinuxONE III LT2 mainframe systems highlight how IBM is providing for the evolving existing needs of its enterprise customers while also helping them prepare for future business revolutions.

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