IBM Expands z16 and LinuxONE 4 Solutions and Benefits from Data Centers to the Edge

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  April 19, 2023

For decades, discussions about enterprise IT solutions like IBM’s zSystems have usually encompassed enterprise data center environments and issues. In many cases, that is entirely sensible since IBM zSystems tend to inhabit the crème de la crème of global enterprise IT environments, including most of the world’s largest banks, best known retailers, most significant healthcare organizations and countless government organizations and agencies.

However, the new single frame and rack mount z16 and LinuxONE 4 solutions that the company recently announced are taking IBM’s signature enterprise platforms into new realms and potentially valuable commercial opportunities. Let’s consider more closely what IBM is doing.

Centralized enterprise computing

Some claim that traditional enterprise systems are artifacts of a bygone era when large businesses depended wholly or mainly on servers, storage, networking and other IT hardware located in sizable, centralized data centers. Today, those critics claim that monolithic IT facilities are increasingly outdated and have been replaced by a wider array of options, including public cloud platforms. Are these assumptions correct?

No and yes. Despite endless promotion by public cloud vendors and cloud-based software and services providers, enterprises and other organizations have come down firmly in favor of hybrid and multi-cloud strategies. These approaches bolster on-premises data centers, systems and private clouds with appropriate, usually carefully chosen public cloud services and solutions.

Proof points for this issue are easy to find. For example, IBM has reported continuing, strong sales in its zSystems and LinuxONE servers to the point that global installed capacity has grown by over 3X during the past decade. In addition, IBM zSystems hardware and software play vital roles in both IBM Cloud solutions and in the company’s strategic partnerships with public cloud vendors.

In other words, cloud vs. on-prem IT is not now, nor has it ever been an either/or proposition.

That said, successful enterprises and enterprise-class computing solutions are constantly evolving to address and adjust to new developments and opportunities. Most recently, those have included extending data collection and analysis to the edges of corporate holdings, embracing practical artificial intelligence (AI) processes and tools, increasing data and device security supporting business modernization strategies and employing environmentally sustainable products and processes.

IBM’s new enterprise solutions

The company’s latest offerings address all these points with solutions that are far smaller, flexible and deployable than previous generation IBM zSystems and LinuxONE systems. Like multi-frame z16 and LinuxONE 4 systems, the new offerings are based on IBM’s Telum processors and support the same robust, high availability features and capabilities as their latest generation multi-frame siblings.

The new IBM z16 and LinuxONE 4 solutions are available in both single frame and rack-mount configurations. The former is a roll-in, roll-out system designed to offer single frame clients enriched capabilities and improved performance per core. The latter, the first-ever rack-mount IBM zSystems or LinuxONE solution, is designed for use in client-owned standard 19-inch racks and power distribution units.

According to IBM, the rack-mount configuration will open opportunities to include z16 and LinuxONE 4 systems in distributed environments with other servers, storage, SAN and switches in one rack. Their ability to optimize both co-location and latency should make the new systems valuable tools for complex applications and workloads, such as training AI models.

IBM believes the new configurations will create new classes of use cases for zSystems and LinuxONE, including:

  • Sustainable design: Due to easier integration into hot or cold aisle thermal management configurations with common power and cooling tools and solutions.
  • Optimizing AI: The on-chip AI inferencing capabilities of IBM’s Telum processors and the newest IBM z/OS 3.1 enables z16 and LinuxONE 4 clients to train and/or deploy AI models very close to where data resides, simplifying processes and optimizing AI results.
  • Data privacy: Supports clients’ data sovereignty strategies and goals. This is especially important for regulated industries with compliance and governance restrictions on data and transaction location.
  • Edge computing: Efficient rack utilization in limited spaces near manufacturing, healthcare devices and other edge computing systems and devices should enhance performance and results.

According to IBM, the new z16 and LinuxONE 4 solutions will become generally available on May 17, 2023.

Final analysis

The new single frame and rack mount z16 and LinuxONE 4 offerings are not the first instances of IBM evolving its mainframe systems and architecture to meet modern clients’ needs. If you want to go way back, remember that the company was the first Tier One vendor to publicly support Linux, and the IBM zSystems mainframe was the first company solution to support Linux development and workloads.

Other examples: In 2013-14 with its 12th gen zEnterprise platform, IBM introduced its first Business Class (BC) solutions for mid-sized enterprises and customers that wanted all-Linux systems. In 2015 with its z13, IBM formalized all-Linux systems with the LinuxONE designation, including a multi-frame “Emperor” solution in September and a single frame “Rockhopper” solution in March 2016.

Indeed, new generations of IBM zSystems and LinuxONE invariably offer technical innovations designed to enhance system performance and client outcomes. Take, for example IBM Virtual Flash Memory which was designed to support improved availability and management of paging workload spikes compared to Flash Express adapters. Or IBM Coupling Express Long Reach which could be more scalable than existing InfiniBand technologies.

These and other IBM system changes have never qualified as “technology for technology’s sake” exercises. Instead, they focus on helping the company’s clients pursue and embrace new and emerging opportunities, capabilities and efficiencies. That is certainly clear in the new single frame z16 and LinuxONE 4 solutions which should appeal to smaller and medium-sized enterprise customers.

However, the companion rack mount configurations are among the more intriguing IBM offerings to come down the pike in quite a while. The current and potential use cases noted by the company seem entirely likely. In addition, the rack mount solutions should provide IBM’s business and channel partners significant opportunities for developing and delivering services for both existing customers and new prospects. Finally, the new solutions could pique the interest of long time IBM customers that support legacy apps on older mainframes.

Overall, the new single frame and rack mount configurations offer organizations of nearly any size workable options for capturing the robust availability, security and performance of IBM’s z16 and LinuxONE 4.

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