Remember industry-standard servers stacked to the ceiling in every data center and even the broom closet? At the time, the mainframe computer was a dinosaur destined for extinction. IBM did not get the memo! IBM continued to innovate on the “z” mainframe platform bolstered by the rise of hybrid-cloud models and many mission-critical enterprise applications that must stay on the mainframe.
Over the past several years, I have written several articles chronicling IBM’s enhancements to the platform. In this latest article, I dig into the detail of IBM’s latest offering – the IBM z16.
Infusing artificial intelligence (AI) into every business transaction
Back in August of 2021, I previewed the IBM Telum processor. The highlights were increases in performance, a new cache design, and an integrated accelerator designed for real-time embedded AI. I labeled the latter feature as a game-changer, and now with Telum shipping in the IBM z16, I will double down on that prediction.
Inference is a process of running live data points through a machine learning (ML) model or algorithm to calculate an output such as a numerical score. Those live data points could be a financial transaction, and the numerical score might point to fraud. The challenge is that the latency is not low enough to run all live data points, i.e., every transaction through the model at scale, while retaining service levels. The workaround is to choose a subset of transactions to run through the model. It would be much better to decide on the transaction and make the right decision instead of having to correct a not-so-good decision after the fact.
IBM has embedded the AI accelerator on the IBM Telum processor. The embedded AI accelerator on the same chip as the core shares the memory in the level three cache with direct access to the data, model input parameters, and the model for computation and a prefetch engine. The AI accelerator on the IBM Telum processor is a significant advantage over other accelerators that you see in the market today, such as GPUs, which are on the other side of a PCI bus from the CPU.
The accelerator can scale up to 300 billion inference requests per day at one-millisecond latency for each inference request, enabling state-of-the-art AI in workloads that were not possible before. According to IBM, the IBM z16 with z/OS has a 20x response time with 19x higher throughput when inferencing compared to a comparable x86 cloud server with 60ms average network latency.
IBM also announced some related news regarding Watson Machine Learning for IBM z/OS. This ML solution makes predictive decisions using insights from operational data – including native z/OS applications. It will now utilize the embedded AI accelerator on the Telum processor.
Additionally, IBM is launching IBM Db2 13 for z/OS. The new release includes a feature called SQL Data Insights. SQL Data Insights facilitates acquiring database knowledge via cognitive intelligence that can discover hidden relationships between transactions. SQL Data Insights leverages AI to enable semantic queries that extend the current database technologies and enable advanced database applications to detect implicit relationships from the data. Customers don’t need to be data scientists to leverage this capability.
For example, a bank has identified an account involved in money laundering. SQL Data Insights can display other accounts that have similar transactions and, therefore, might be also be involved in money laundering. The similarity query delivers a ranked list of different accounts with similar patterns.
Proactively avoid outages
Resiliency no longer means redundancy, where a secondary site is good enough. The next level of resiliency requires a flexible enterprise infrastructure that is proactive and responsive. Essentially, to be ready for anything, including natural disasters, cyber-attacks, insider threats, and socio-economical changes worldwide.
The IBM z16 system has resiliency and redundancy built-in, from the Telum chip to the operating system. IBM is also announcing Flexible Capacity for cyber resiliency, allowing a fully automated client-initiated site swap within seconds, which can then stay for a year.
Customers can dynamically shift production workloads from one IBM z16 system to another IBM z16 system in seconds—an almost instantaneous shift of capacity from one environment to another. IBM allows customers to perform this operation up to 12 times a year, so six round trips.
Simplifying and streamlining compliance tasks
IBM is introducing is the IBM Z Security and Compliance Center to simplify and streamline compliance tasks.
Regulations are increasing and becoming stricter over time, increasing the cost of compliance. With complex hybrid-cloud environments, stitching together all the information needed for an audit is complicated and time-consuming.
With IBM z16, IBM is introducing a new software product, IBM Z Security and Compliance Center, that automates the collection and validation of the evidence against a set of controls, the system, operating system, middleware, and applications. The first release will focus on PCI DSS and NIST 853 security controls, with a more planned. The solution includes a centralized interactive dashboard displaying compliance posture in real-time.
The industry’s first quantum-safe system
The “quantum apocalypse” is no longer a science journal discussion. We are entering a new cryptographic era where quantum computers will solve chemistry, material science, or mathematics problems. In nefarious hands, quantum computers can break some of the cryptographic technologies we’ve used for many years. That is the fear.
Attacks from a quantum computer might already have started. The “harvest now, decrypt later” attack scenario, where bad guys harvest data today to hold on to it until a quantum computer can then expose that information.
The message is that we should all look at this problem today. If the data today is not protected with quantum-safe methods, it will be subject to attack in the future.
Quantum-safe cryptography refers to efforts to identify algorithms that are resistant to attacks by both classical and quantum-safe computers to keep that information and those assets secure when a large-scale quantum computer is available.
To my knowledge, the IBM z16 is the first quantum-safe system that leverages quantum protections. The system will help protect against some of the future quantum attacks, like the harvest now decrypt later scenario.
The IBM z16 is protected with quantum-safe technology through the multiple firmware layers during the boot process. It’s the industry’s first system to support a quantum-safe secure boot. When the system boots up, it must be confident that the firmware loaded in that system is authentic.
The crypto express card is called the IBM Hardware Security Module (HSM) for applications. The HSM provides quantum-safe APIs to modernize existing applications. There will be APIs to protect data, generate and verify digital signatures, and quantum-safe key encapsulation mechanisms so that exchanges are quantum-safe.
It will take a quantum-safe journey to be able to protect the applications and essential data and digital assets. It will take planning, including creating a crypto inventory that details crypto use – a prerequisite to implementing mitigation changes.
IBM will be updating the IBM Application Discovery and Delivery Intelligence tool to include a crypto discovery capability, leveraging existing discovery technology to build an inventory and prioritize where to make changes.
Embracing open-source technology and a common developer experience
IBM is committed to open-source technology and establishing a common developer experience across the hybrid cloud. IBM is reacting to customers needing to modernize applications but avoid compromising on the IBM z security, scalability availability that underpins business-critical functions. An example might be installing a new feature in the mobile banking application but retaining the availability of checking balances.
In January 2022, IBM announced the IBM Z Cloud and Modernization stack that is recently generally available. The IBM Z Cloud and Modernization stack brings industry-standard tooling for development, automation, and provisioning by leveraging the Red Hat OpenShift container platform. It connects IBM z assets to the hybrid cloud and reduces the time to provision and manage systems across the enterprise.
The backdrop here is that digital transformation is the driving force for most enterprises. A hybrid cloud, without a doubt, is the operating model with heterogeneous, best-fit platforms and capabilities. Additionally, we see automation and AI as the key enablers in a world facing increasing security challenges.
In the move to IBM z16, IBM responds to several vital needs heard from customers. The first requirement was to build AI directly into the operational transaction system. As the speed of the business continues to increase, so does the need for speed and accuracy of decision-making. And that’s a huge step.
We all know cybercrime is on the uptick – today’s challenge. But IBM is also reacting to a threat we know is coming, but we are unsure when.
The “quantum apocalypse” is the point when quantum computers become a reality and render most methods of internet encryption useless. The fear is that at some point in time, the bad guys will have quantum computers with the ability to decrypt most of today’s crypto algorithms easily. The IBM z16 leverages quantum protections to help protect against future quantum attacks, like the “harvest now, decrypt later” scenario.
And then finally, IBM is making it easy for developers to react and deploy new features quickly. Developers can modernize applications without compromising security, scalability, and availability. That includes connecting with the cloud whether the cloud is on-premises or off-premises. IBM’s cloud modernization stack utilizes modern DevOps, tools, languages, and programming paradigms.
IBM continues to evolve this platform and deliver more and more value to customers, as evidenced by the growing momentum between versions. I look forward to the next chapter.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.