IBM Announces New Midrange Systems: IBM z15 and LinuxOne III

In a recent IT analyst briefing on IBM’s new z15 and LinuxONE III servers, company executives focused heavily on three big ideas: instant recovery, cloud-native application development improvements, and data security/privacy. All three of these have a direct bearing on how these new mainframe systems should be deployed – but my first reaction was: “heh – what’s in the box?”

What’s in the box?
What IBM is announcing is two new servers – both are scaled-down, air-cooled, single-frame models. In other words, smaller siblings of the full scale solutions introduced last fall.

The new z15 enterprise server (Machine Type 8562, Model T02) can be configured with 1 to 2 drawers (CPC drawers contain processors, RAM memory, and other related infrastructure components). And it can be set up with anywhere from 1 to 65 processor units (these processor units represent the client configurable cores in the system). The amount of memory in this model can range from 64GB to 16TB. By comparison, last September, IBM announced a new multi-frame z15 machine (Type 8561, Model T01) that can scale up to 190 processor units – with max memory ranging from 512 GB to 40TB.

The new single-frame LinuxONE III (Machine Type 8562, Model LT2) can support 1 to 2 drawers; 1 to 65 IFLs (Integrated Facility for Linux – specialty engines optimized for Linux processing); and can be configured with 64GB to 16TB of memory. By comparison, the multi-frame LinuxONE III, model LT1 can run up to 190 IFLs, and can have up to 40TB of RAIM memory.

In short, the new z15 and LinuxONE single frames are just smaller versions of their big brothers – built for customers and prospects who don’t need vast capacity but who do want to take advantage of IBM’s proven strengths in recovery, security/privacy and cloud-native integration.

How IBM approached this announcement
IBM barely talked about the new boxes and their characteristics, instead focusing on the infrastructure strengths these new systems deliver. And that was probably the right approach – because choosing the new systems or a multi-frame system is really just a capacity discussion. Instead, IBM steered the focus of the discussion to cloud computing, privacy, security and resilience.

As the briefing progressed, IBM took a few minutes to review some z15 highlights. In the final quarter of 2019, the company shipped the most MIPS (millions of instructions per second – a measurement of frame capacity being used) in its history. It touted “trust” and “security” as the primary reasons customers are scaling up their mainframe investments and moving to IBM z15.

From a systems consolidation perspective, 66% of IBM clients who upgrade to z15 are seeing a 50% or greater reduction in computer floor space. The company also cited testimonials from customers regarding the z15’s instant recovery capability, expressing surprise on how quickly the z15 can resume its IPL (initial program load). IBM also observed that its new PDU (power distribution units) are delivering power savings of up to 50% compared to equivalent x86 server deployments. And, finally, IBM found that the new compression facility (described here in a previous Clabby Analytics report) is helping customers justify the purchase of new z15’s based on data cost savings alone.

The cloud native discussion
IBM was slow to get into the cloud marketplace – allowing public cloud providers such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to make inroads into the computing marketplace as IBM sorted out how it would position itself for cloud competition in the future.
To compete with public cloud suppliers, IBM needed to improve its cloud development environment with features, including open, standard tools and infrastructure, containerized services, cloud integration with an orchestration layer provided by Kubernetes via the company’s Red Hat acquisition – and more. And the company also needed to fix its cloud pricing structure – announcing its “tailored fit” pricing (see this Clabby Analytics report for further details.) Further, it needed to work on its cloud packaging, which it has done with its Cloud Pak on IBM Z (see here).

And, finally, IBM needed to reposition the Z in the cloud marketplace, which it did by announcing four distinct approaches for incorporating IBM Z into cloud deployments.

1. Transform for the cloud – this approach focuses on opening IBM Z for the transformation of application and infrastructure for simplification of operations through exposing assets via APIs.
2. Cloud-native experience – opening IBM Z for access and use with no special skills required – as if IBM Z was just like any other cloud development platform;
3. Private cloud – Manage and leverage IBM Z through integration with multi-cloud environments from behind the firewall; and,
4. Public cloud – IBM Z distributed across and delivered by IBM Cloud.

The message that IBM was trying to deliver was that its System z15 and LinuxONE servers had been modernized – and that applications can be built and deployed on these architectures just like any other systems architecture in the market. This is a plausible argument given the company’s broad portfolio of cloud offerings. And IBM Cloud revenues also indicate that this argument has legs (IBM did $21.2B in cloud business in 2019). To further drive this point home; however, the company needs more testimonials from IBM Z and LinuxONE customers vetting its claims.

IBM’s repositioning as the provider of enterprise-class public, private, and hybrid clouds, however, really resonates. Much work has been done by the company and standards organizations to help integrate public and private hybrid clouds transparently – and IBM has been showing industry leadership in the hybrid cloud marketplace.

The security/privacy/recovery discussion
IBM Z does security and data protection better than any other server platform, as evidenced by IBM Z’s “encryption everywhere” functionalities. This offers hardware-accelerated encryption, file or data set encryption, database encryption – and protected keys allowing for high-speed encryption. And the company provides data-centric security and controlled access to diagnostic data shared with partners and ecosystems.

From a data protection and privacy perspective, last September, IBM introduced its Data Privacy Passports Technology that extends protection and privacy for data at rest, in-flight and beyond host boundaries. Further, Data Privacy Passports can audit and provide records to assist in meeting compliance requirements.

New to the discussion, however, was IBM’s review of cyber resiliency. IBM pointed out that the prevalence of cyber threats is continually increasing; that the costs associated with downtime resulting from breaches are immense, and that the types of threats that are occurring are widely varied. Accordingly, to handle cyber threats, computer systems need to have the ability to anticipate attacks, not just withstand them. If a threat succeeds, systems need to be able to recover and restore quickly.

To deal with cyber threats, IBM Z has been architected with the industry’s highest mean time between failure; industry-leading high-availability – and with IBM System Recovery Boost, IBM Z can restore service and recover workloads faster than previous generation Z mainframes.

On the Linux side of the platform, IBM introduced new IBM Secure Execution for Linux that improves security and isolation when running multiple workloads in the same virtual environment. This hardware-based security technology creates trusted execution environments, allows for rapid, secure scaling, and restricts data access while continuing to enable administrators and coders to perform their jobs.

Summary observations
When IBM announces new hardware, I kinda expect them to talk about it some. During the course of this briefing, however, the new hardware was barely mentioned. And that’s fine because IBM’s real message was: “Hey, we’ve got a few smaller boxes that are every bit as good as the bigger boxes. Now look what you can do with them.”

The new single frame z15 and LinuxONE systems are very well positioned as cloud-native development and deployment platforms, with super-strong security (best in the industry); and with amazingly fast recovery – along with protection and privacy passport capabilities. These new systems are clearly differentiatable from x86 servers offering the same capacity. If IBM can clearly and successfully deliver these messages about their new z15 and LinuxONE single frames, and if customers buy into the company’s mainframe-based cloud services, IBM could end up with a real winner that extends security to the enterprise at an enticing price point for cloud applications.

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