IBM’s z15 – Extending Mainframe Value Via New Business Innovations

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  September 12, 2019

Follow technology news long enough and you often see an odd discrepancy—press releases that minimally address or largely skip over the businesses and use cases that new IT solutions are supposedly designed to support. Instead of illuminating their practical business benefits, these announcements focus largely or entirely on abstract new features and “speeds/feeds” technical achievements.

The tech industry certainly isn’t the only place where this occurs. The promotional focus on “shiny new things” is even more commonplace in consumer goods. But in business IT, such inclinations can signal especially dangerous or fatal flaws. Look closely at any floundering IT vendor or solution—there are plenty to choose from—and you’ll usually find a failure of relevance to end customers.

That said, the obverse is also true—that vendors and solutions which focus intently on customers’ current and emerging needs remain relevant and successful long after competitors have fallen away. IBM’s flagship Z mainframe solutions are a terrific example of this, and the company’s next gen z15 system should continue IBM’s longstanding leadership in enterprise computing. Let’s examine the new z15 and consider why that’s the case.

Challenges for today’s enterprises

Let’s begin by looking at challenges enterprises face that can be assuaged or solved with business computing solutions. Three come quickly to mind:

  1. Secure data on/off prem – Modern business processes rely heavily on seamless exchanges of information between organizations and their partners and customers. But as the threat landscape grows in both size and complexity, the free flow of data can also increase the risk of data breaches and the theft of sensitive information. Those issues are further exacerbated by companies adopting cloud-based solutions and storing valuable data in both on-premises and in multiple public cloud infrastructures.
  2. Support hybrid multi-cloud environments and cloud-native devops – That hybrid multi-cloud is becoming standard operating procedure for more and more enterprise computing is hardly unexpected. Why so? Because it’s the only approach that enables companies to capture the benefits of cloud while exerting maximum oversight and control of mission critical data assets. But fully leveraging those benefits by modernizing existing applications and building new cloud-native apps is still a work in progress for many or most organizations.
  3. Ensure “always on” business processes – IT downtime, both planned and unplanned, is a bane for large organizations that carries significant bottom line impacts. If there are better, more effective ways to manage planned downtime and to recover more quickly from unplanned outages, enterprises want to know all about them.

IBM’s z15 and modern enterprise computing

IBM’s Z mainframe solutions have long stood at the pinnacle of “enterprise-class” computing due to their exceptional performance, scalability, reliability and security features. But with the new next generation z15 platforms, IBM has incorporated features which allow customers to extend the capabilities and benefits of IBM Z beyond the system to incorporate mainframe applications and data residing in off-premises hybrid multi-cloud infrastructures.

How has IBM accomplished this? First and foremost, through a collaborative development effort incorporating IBM Systems and IBM Research (which generated 3,000+ issued or in-process IBM Z patents), along with input from more than 100 enterprises and over 300 mainframe customers. As a result, the new z15 systems support some remarkable new features tailored for the needs of modern enterprises.

  • Data Privacy Passports – In order to address the need for stringent security both inside and outside an organization, IBM has extended the pervasive “encryption everywhere” features introduced with the z14 mainframes. The new solution – Data Privacy Passports – leverages what IBM calls Trusted Data Objects (TDO) which allow an organization’s data protection policies to be enforced for individual files and specific users. Auditing and compliance are centrally managed, as are key creation and management processes. TDO files are encrypted prior to distribution and cannot be decrypted until recipients sign in and are approved. Since keys are embedded, files can’t be opened without approval. In other words, with IBM’s Data Privacy Passports, z15 owners can secure files and ensure that they are used appropriately, even if they have lost custody of those files.
  • Easing the next phase of hybrid multi-cloud computing – According to IBM, most enterprises have completed the “easy lifting” phases of the cloud journeys but will need assistance in the next stage – supporting mission-critical applications and data in hybrid multi-cloud environments. The new z15 systems are designed to drive these efforts through a combination of robust performance improvements and upcoming cloud-native development features. On the performance side, a single z15 system can process up to 1 trillion web transactions per day, scale-out to 2.4 million Docker instances and support massive (20TB+) databases. Mission-critical latency issues can be aided by compressing web transactions prior to encryption. Using the z15’s Integrated Accelerator can lower latency by up to 30X and CPU utilization by up to 28X less than software-based compression solutions. IBM also emphasized its plans to support Red Hat OpenShift for IBM Z and LinuxONE solutions, including the z15. The company will also deliver its Cloud Pak offerings for Z and LinuxONE which complement the IBM software offerings that are central to hybrid multi-cloud deployments.
  • IBM Instant Recovery – The substantial costs enterprises suffer due to unplanned downtime are well understood, but even planned downtime can impact a company’s ability to perform effectively. IBM’s new Instant Recovery is designed to address these issues by leveraging a z15’s extra capacity (12% more cores and 25% more memory than the z14) to take up the slack and process delayed transactions. As a result, z15 customers can restart systems and return to steady state business in up to 50% less time than previously required and complete their transactional backlogs up to twice as fast.
  • IBM Storage and hybrid cloud – IBM also announced a new enterprise storage system, the IBM DS8900F, designed for mission critical hybrid multi-clouds. The new solution offers customers up to “seven 9s” (99.99999%) of uptime (that is, just over 3 seconds of downtime per year) and several disaster recovery options with near-instant recovery time requirements. The DS8900F also offers twice the capacity of prior generation solutions (via 30TB flash drives) along with AI-driven support and management features.

Final analysis

What’s the final takeaway from all this? In essence, with its new z15 and LinuxONE solutions, IBM is not only continuing to refine the capabilities of its flagship mainframe platforms but to redefine the meaning of enterprise-class computing. It is also significantly extending the areas where these systems can impact and improve mission-critical business applications and processes to include hybrid multi-cloud deployments and environments.

In other words, with the help of hundreds of enterprises and clients, IBM has fashioned the z15 into a solution that offers benefits customers can immediately enjoy, as well as features that will help them achieve the future initiatives they are planning. It should also be noted that this approach is no new thing. For decades, IBM has put business and businesses first in its solution and services planning efforts.

The new IBM z15 and LinuxONE platforms are simply the latest examples of the company’s customer-centric approach. However, they also highlight why, after occupying enterprise data centers for over a half century, the IBM mainframe remains the industry’s preeminent enterprise computing platform.

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