IBM Doubles Encryption Performance in New Mid-Market Mainframe

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  February 17, 2016

For decades the IT industry has enabled what might be called “trickle-down” innovation across numerous markets and industries with effects that have benefitted both organizations and individual users. The evidence for this is abundantly clear in hundreds of news stories that compare the performance of the latest systems, PCs, tablets or smart phones to well-known and regarded past platforms.

There are numerous engines behind this continuing evolution. Moore’s Law is particularly well known as a descriptor for semiconductor progress, and similar or even more robust price/performance advances have been made in data storage, memory, display, battery and other related technologies. But global manufacturing and supply chain processes that allow highly complex products to be made, assembled in and shipped from low wage markets complement this dynamic.

However, while consumer technologies typically evolve in a more or less passive manner dependent on the quality of commercial off the shelf (COTS) components, business IT vendors tend to take a more active path in shaping solutions for specific kinds of markets and organizations. IBM is especially proactive in this regard, and the company’s new z System z13s is a good example of how the company extends enterprise-class computing capabilities to mid-sized businesses.

Evolving mainframes for evolving markets

The z13s is the latest in a series of mainframes designed for the mid-market that began with the z9 BC (Business Class) solutions IBM introduced in 2005. The impetus for that offering, as well as the follow-on z10 BC and zEnterprise BC12, was to expand the use cases and demand for IBM mainframe systems beyond the platform’s traditional large enterprise customer base.

That effort succeeded, though the z System’s native capabilities make it a natural fit for financial institutions, retailers and other transaction-centric businesses than some other kinds of organizations. In fact, IBM’s strategy allowed the company to make inroads among growing businesses in China, India, Brazil, and elsewhere. The new z13s clearly maintains that focus on mid-sized businesses but takes a somewhat different strategic approach by notably enhancing the platform’s encryption capabilities.

Why is that a big deal? For two reasons. First, while secure computing is hugely important to private and public sector organizations, the increasing use of mobile and public cloud networks has massively expanded their exposure to external cyberattacks. In addition, more than half of security incidents originate within organizations, either knowingly or through human error. Toss in realistic fears about the likelihood of professionally orchestrated breaches and the theft of valuable intellectual property (IP), and the need for more effective security and monitoring has never been more profound.

Robust, systemic security

What has IBM done to address these needs with the z13s? Several things.

  • First, the company notably expanded the z13s’s cryptographic capabilities via improvements to its hardware-accelerated cryptographic co-processor cards, doubling the encryption/decryption speed previous generation systems delivered. Bottom line: Owners of new z13s solutions can effectively encrypt/decrypt twice as many transactions as they did with prior systems without suffering declines in system performance.
  • IBM also introduced a new z Systems Cyber Security Analytics offering, a service developed by IBM Research that analyzes/learns user behavior and, with insights from IBM’s QRadar security software, detects anomalous, possibly malicious activities, then alerts administrators. The z Systems Cyber Security Analytics solution will be available to z13s and z13 customers as a no-charge beta offering.
  • Along with tightly integrating IBM Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) into the z/OS operating system, the company is also integrating IBM Security solutions into the mainframe, including IBM Security Identity Governance and Intelligence, IBM Security Guardium, IBM Security zSecure and QRadar. Those additions make the z13s among the market’s most secure solutions for hybrid cloud deployments.
  • IBM also announced additions to its security partner ecosystem, focusing on z System solutions. These include BlackRidge Security for identity-based network security, Forcepoint for Trusted Thin Clients, and RSM Partners for application readiness and other testing/management solutions.

Final analysis

Just as IBM did with earlier Business Class mainframes, the new z13s finds the company with its sight clearly focused on the technical and practical requirements of its mid-sized business customers. However, the z13s’s enhanced encryption performance and new security capabilities shine a light on how much the business environment and threat landscape have changed for organizations of every size.

The legendary Willy Sutton once quipped that he robbed banks because, “That’s where the money is.” There was a time when a similar connection could be made between cyber criminals and their large enterprise targets—the bigger the pigeon, the richer the feast. But these days, increasingly organized and systematized cyberattacks can make a meal out of nearly any target. That’s a point that IBM fully understands and has effectively addressed with its new z System solutions.

Just because companies aren’t large enterprises doesn’t mean that they don’t need or deserve the best that enterprise-class security has to give. Given the ongoing evolution of business computing technologies and IBM’s drive to deliver continuing innovations, best in enterprise-class security is just what the company’s customers will get with the new z Systems z13s.

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