Are Operating Systems Boring? IBM’s z/OS V2.5: Turbocharging Mainframe AI, Hybrid Cloud and Security

An “operating system” is used to provide users/applications with access to underlying resources (communications/networking, storage, input/output devices and so on). Per this definition, operating systems are mundane. They are boring. They simply connect “Point A” to “Point B.” Ho-hum…

Maybe it’s time to rethink the importance of some operating systems. Some operating systems are limited and straightforward, providing an interface to a limited array of peripherals and services. Other operating systems can be more complex, providing multiple, varied applications with access to a wealth of underlying services and devices (found on a given system or other systems in the cloud). IBM’s z/OS V2.5 fits into this latter category.

To put IBM’s z/OS into perspective, think of the myriad of applications that can be run on IBM’s System Z. Traditional, classic, heritage, bedrock applications that have run for decades on IBM System Z. And also think of the more modern, modular applications that use modern microservices approaches within hybrid clouds that include System Z and other systems. z/OS allows these disparate environments to be blended and coordinated, working cooperatively to access and share data across disparate platform environments. IBM System Z can host heritage applications; it can run new cloud-architected applications – and it can provide a transparent bridge to other cloud environments to share data while extending a security blanket across intermixed hybrid cloud environments. And, with artificial intelligence (AI), z/OS can also assist in streamlining operations management.

But, hey – can’t other operating environments share data across clouds? The answer to this question is: “yes.” But where z/OS is different is in the resources it directly manages – and in the security extensions it provides. Think of running applications on Z hardware. z/OS enables applications to exploit specialty processors for accelerated performance and to exploit communications processors to provide thousands of users/applications with high-speed access to data and resources. Then add the additional security services provided at the general processor level and on specialized hardware, providing pervasive encryption to protect information and data. Access to these special and general processors and services are all guided by IBM’s z/OS operating environment. These hardware extensions and service levels are not available on other systems. And z/OS controls these resources. With the breadth of workloads and Quality-of-Service that z/OS can deliver, the z/OS operating system is far from boring…

By providing access to advanced communications services, advanced pervasive security services, transparent cloud services – and access to specialized processors to more efficiently and cost-effectively run specific workloads – z/OS is far from mundane – far from boring. It is the integral heart of one of the most powerful, flexible commercial systems designs on the planet.

The New IBM z/OS V2.5
Recently, IBM announced the availability of a new version of its System Z operating system: z/OS V2.5. Enhancements to this operating system are intended to drive further client adoption of the hybrid cloud model (public/private/managed cloud service environments) – while also accelerating the use of artificial intelligence to drive application modernization projects.

More specifically, the new operating system version has been designed to:

  • Better support application modernization using a standard cloud-native approach;
  • Simplify and improve z operations management and provisioning;
  • Extend cybersecurity solutions.

z/OS Cloud-Native Improvements
The goal of z/OS cloud-native improvements is to transparently blend traditional heritage computing environments with cloud environments – from an applications integration perspective, a tools and utility perspective, and a security perspective. To do this, z/OS V2.5 offers:
Enhancements to z/OS Container extensions that allow for colocation agility, as well as providing Linux applications with access to z/OS utilities;
The ability to exploit z/OS Container Extensions to allow different AI tools, frameworks and libraries to be used by mission-critical applications.

Simplified operations/provisioning management
In the future, z/OS will support an Open Container Initiative (OCI) container runtime with Kubernetes container orchestration – a standardized way to deploy and provision z/OS applications and workloads. These improvements will allow z/OS clients to more easily adopt a container-based, cloud-native strategy that has the same look-and-feel across a hybrid cloud by enabling administrators to deploy, maintain and manage z/OS just as if it were a native-cloud operating system. (IBM intends to simplify this process by introducing guided, customized instructions and workflows so that programmers can deploy containers confidently).
Meanwhile, in this revision, z/OS V2.5 delivers:

  • ServerPac for z/OS V2.5 as a portable software instance (using a standard, simple and guided process to create portable software instances);
    A new task called “Software Update” that simplifies and guides administrators through software deployment – regardless of the software vendor (this improvement to the Z/OS Management Facility [z/OSMF] requires less time and experience than the traditional deployment process);
  • Simplified provisioning, resource management and security resources as part of IBM Cloud Provisioning and Management for z/OS that helps administrators efficiently manage templates and instances and to support expanded resource pools; and,
  • New capabilities and enhancements to help automate tasks and simplify system management, including improvements to the z/OSMF browser-based desktop; the z/OSMF Security Configuration Assistant; enhancement of z/OSMF Sysplex Management to simplify the Coupling Facility Resource Management (CFRM) policy editor using a simplified graphical interface.

Cybersecurity improvements
z/OS V2.5 cyber improvements focus on strengthening the security, integrity and privacy of data, including new functionality such as:

  • Anomaly mitigation using Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA), Runtime Diagnostics, Workload Manager (WLM) and JES2 that further enables clients to detect anomalous behavior in near real-time;
    Updated RACF PassTicket capabilities to support more robust cryptographic algorithms;
  • Enhanced System Recovery Boost for IBM z15 servers;
  • Enhancements to Data Privacy for Diagnostics;
  • Simplified Pervasive Encryption deployment and management;
  • z/OS Encryption Readiness Technology (zERT) improvements that provide policy-based enforcement of local network cryptography requirements; and,
  • Support for a z/OS Authorized Code Scanner feature that dynamically scans a client’s authorized code and provides diagnostic information.

Other Enhancements
Other Enhancements include:

  • Enhancements to z/OS Cloud storage that allow the hybrid cloud to be used as an additional storage tier;
  • Real Storage Management extension (supporting greater than 4 TB of real memory) – thus enabling System Z to support new, memory-hungry applications;
  • Sorting improvements (using a hardware solution: IBM Integrated Accelerator for Z Sort) to greatly accelerate sorting speed;
  • Support for Shared Memory Communications (Version 2), enabling communications performance improvements by not being constrained by a single IP subnet;
    Support for a z/OSMF plug-in that simplifies the management of removable media;
  • Extensions to the IBM Job Entry Subsystem 2 (JES2) policy-based customization facility that reduces the need for clients to code installation exits in JES2;
  • Continued System Display and Search Facility (SDSF) enhancements;
  • Improvements to the z/OS Workload Interaction Correlator;
  • A more efficient Tailored Fit Pricing (TFP) parameter that is easier and less error-prone than using Sub-Capacity Reporting Tool (SCRT) control statements; and,
  • Enhancements to the priced feature Resource Measurement Facility (RMF);

Summary observations
This new version of z/OS shows how strongly IBM is committed to sharing data and blending applications across the hybrid cloud. Most notable is IBM’s intent to extend z/OS to support an OCI container runtime with Kubernetes container orchestration. This will indeed provide a standardized means to deploy and provision z/OS applications and workloads as if they are members of a standard, cohesive cloud environment.

With this new version, new tools and facilities have been introduced to simplify the blending of public and private clouds with the mainframe environment. And much work has been done to streamline management using AI, making the management of the mainframe closely resemble the control of any other cloud environment – masking the complexity of cross-environment provisioning and management. And, with security improvements (including easier to deploy and manage pervasive security) and privacy, IBM continues to extend mainframe-class protection to the cloud.

On the surface, the announcement of a new operating system may not cause IT executives to jump from their seats in a standing ovation. But, over time, I expect the improvements to z/OS (simplified blending of the hybrid cloud and less complex management – combined with enterprise-grade security) will at least cause them to crack a smile…