Trip Report: IBM Poughkeepsie Briefing

IBM recently held a non-disclosure briefing regarding the release of its newest enterprise server, the z15. What I expected was the typical capacity increase; additional memory; the addition of new instructions to the platform; some chip modifications, and some manageability improvements. But what I got was a whole lot more.
The biggest news was not the z15 announcement
At a Poughkeepsie, New York IT Analyst non-disclosure briefing IBM revealed not only its new mainframe, but also improvements in mainframe security (data protection and privacy); in business continuity; in software and packaging; in data compression – and, most importantly, its new mainframe cloud go-to-market strategy. The mainframe hardware and software improvements are discussed later in this report – but, to me, the biggest news was IBM’s go-to-market mainframe cloud strategy as it shows how serious IBM has become about making its venerable mainframe a key player in future enterprise clouds.
Here’s the skinny: IBM perceives a threat to its mainframe mission-critical workloads business – and that threat comes from cloud computing service providers – particularly Amazon Web Services (AWS). The way that IBM sees the market evolving is in “chapters”. In the first chapter of the evolving business transformation market IBM noted a major move by IT executives toward moving lower-priority, low service level, low risk applications to the public cloud. IBM observed that this segment of the IT marketplace was being driven by consumer innovation; IBM also noted that its customers were experimenting with digital/AI (artificial intelligence) technologies – and, most importantly, focusing on moving non-mission-critical workloads onto public cloud platforms.
But now, according to IBM market analysts, the market is shifting into another chapter: Chapter 2. This chapter is being driven by enterprise computing (not by consumers looking for public cloud solutions.) In this phase, digital/AI solutions have moved beyond the experimentation phase and are being embedded into business applications (at scale). In Chapter 1, user applications were driving public cloud adoption (making up about 20% of workloads); but now, in Chapter 2, enterprises are examining moving mission-critical workloads into the cloud (about 80% of workloads). And a huge portion of mission critical, systems-of-record applications currently reside on traditional, private mainframe computers. It is now imperative that IBM make the mainframe a key player in the enterprise clouds of the future – or risk losing workloads to other cloud providers.
To counter this threat, as well as to capitalize on new opportunities to capture new workloads, IBM is making a huge commitment to mainframe cloud computing – offering four distinct approaches to mainframe participation in public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments:
1. Transform for the cloud – this approach focuses on opening IBM Z for 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 multicloud environments from behind the firewall; and,
4. Public cloud – IBM Z distributed across and delivered by IBM Cloud.
With its expanded mainframe cloud strategy, it is IBM’s intention to “provide open access and extend the platform value with open standards and tooling across all cloud deployment and service models.” What this means is that IBM is working to enable its IBM Z to play seamlessly with other vendors’ cloud implementations in public, private, traditional, open and multicloud environments. IBM is differentiating its Z by offering significantly differentiated qualities-of-service (QoS). In short, IBM Z will be the invisible part of the cloud where applications that require super-strong security (including pervasive encryption), and continuous operation (no outages) that meet strict compliance requirements.
To make this happen, IBM intends to position OpenShift cloud technology as the industry standard for open and multicloud environments. OpenShift will serve as a bridge technology that will enable workloads to be run anywhere in a cloud (OpenShift is already supported by Red Hat, AWS, Microsoft Azure, and the Google Cloud.) IBM is also working to make its solutions (its software offerings that include security, databases, middleware, application management, infrastructure services and more) available anywhere in a cloud using container technology. The company will differentiate its Z architecture by offering multicloud services.
Enticing pricing
To make it enticing for customers to integrate their mainframes with other clouds, a few months ago IBM introduced “Tailored Fit Pricing for IBM Z,” which we described in this blog in May. “Tailored Fit” pricing represents an attempt to competitively align mainframe pricing with the pricing of cloud service providers. Tailored Fit pricing comes in two flavors: 1) an Enterprise Consumption Solution; and, 2) an Enterprise Capacity Solution. The former is priced on the total number of MSUs (millions of service units) consumed – no longer the number used at system peak. The latter is based on a commitment to use a fixed amount of capacity – and includes greatly discounted pricing for new workloads. The Enterprise Consumption Solution is geared for mainframe users with variable workloads – and allows them to pay for the computing power they use in total, not at maximum peak. The Enterprise Capacity Solution is geared for mainframe users that prefer predictable and consistent monthly charges – with no surprises due to higher-than-expected peak utilization.
From our perspective at Clabby Analytics, these new pricing models are designed to simplify mainframe systems and budget management while also driving mainframe expansion and growth. Each allows customers to consume mainframe computing power in a manner that makes sense to their business imperatives. And, we expect that IBM incentives for placing new workloads will serve to make mainframes more competitive with other cloud offerings, positioning them for solid growth in hybrid and multi-cloud environments.
The other news: A new mainframe is coming
At the IT analyst briefing IBM also introduced its new mainframe, the IBM z15 Machine Type: 8561 Model T01. This new enterprise server offers up to 190 client configurable cores; a 14% single thread performance Improvement; a 25% maximum system capacity growth over the previous z14 model; new on-chip acceleration of compression for faster processing and more efficient storage of data (see this Clabby Analytics report for more details – will be published at time of announcement); investments in pause-less garbage collection; and 30+ new instructions codesigned and exploited by Java. As expected, the new IBM Z offers significantly more capacity; and, as expected, faster performance.
Additionally, main memory has been expanded to 40 TB max per system which is 25% more memory over the previous z14 model. Scalability has been improved up to 20% more I/O channels and 50% more physical Coupling Facility connections over the z14. And security performance has been improved with faster crypto card performance compared with the z14.
Most impressive with this announcement is that IBM has engineered compression technology on its z chip. With on-chip compression, IBM Z can compress data more efficiently with a 6x compression ratio for storage savings. Compression at the microprocessor level also reduces bandwidth, creates faster transfer times; BSAM/QSAM compression saves space, elapsed time, and CPU cycles. Using IBM Sterling Connect:Direct for compressed file transfer IBM has seen up to 80% reduction in file transfer time. Further, note that by combining IBM’s Pervasive Encryption with Integrated Acceleration for zEDC (the on-chip compression facility), IBM customers can get optimized and secure compression at the same time – lowering file size overhead for pervasive encryption (IBM touts a 7% reduction in CPU time compressing and encrypting.)
Not to be overlooked in this announcement is IBM’s progress in cloud software; data protection and privacy; service level improvements; embedded operational AI; and cloud datacenter modularity improvements.
From a cloud software perspective, IBM’s z/OS Cloud Broker delivers self-service access to z/OS services from new cloud native applications. IBM is also focusing on tooling to make application development on the mainframe a “cloud native” experience (as if developing on any other cloud platform). Progress has also been made on Project Zowe (which we describe here). Project Zowe is a framework designed to draw new application development to the z/OS operating environment, as well as making it simpler to integrate modern applications on other platforms (systems, servers, mobile devices, etc.) with mainframe servers.
From a data protection and privacy perspective IBM introduced its new Data Privacy Passports Technology that extends protection and privacy for data at rest, in flight and beyond host boundaries.
From a service level perspective, IBM has made several improvements designed to improve operations management, including work on Instant Recovery which expedites system restart from both planned and unplanned outages and accelerates client workload recovery. IBM has also embedded Operational AI to help synchronize workload correlation for faster root cause analysis of key issues without any performance impact
In datacenter modularity, IBM touted its standard 19” rack form factor design – a footprint that is considered standard for data center systems worldwide.
Summary observations
Yes, the announcement of a new mainframe is a big deal. But I would argue that IBM’s new, multi-faceted enterprise cloud strategy is an even bigger deal. What IBM sees is a direct threat to its lock on mission critical workloads from cloud providers – and what IBM plans to do is respond with an aggressive strategy to position the IBM Z as the cloud architecture to use when business continuity and security are primary requirements. IBM Z does security and data protection better than any other server type in the industry – and the IBM Z has the longest meantime between failure of any other competing architecture. These are two major requirements when executing mission critical applications – and IBM’s excellence in each category should help position the mainframe as the cloud architecture of choice for Chapter 2 – running mission critical applications in public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud environments.