z System-Power-Storage Still Live at IBM

A mid-December briefing by Tom Rosamilia, SVP, IBM Systems, reassured some that IBM wasn’t putting its systems and platforms on the backburner after racking up financial quarterly losses for years. Expect new IBM systems in 2017. A few days later IBM announced that Japan-based APLUS Co., Ltd., which operates credit card and settlement service businesses, selected IBM LinuxONE as its mission-critical system for credit card payment processing. Hooray!

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LinuxONE’s security and industry-leading performance will ensure APLUS achieves its operational objectives as online commerce heats up and companies rely on cloud applications to draw and retain customers. Especially in Japan, where online and mobile shopping has become increasingly popular, the use of credit cards has grown, with more than 66 percent of consumers choosing that method for conducting online transactions. And with 80 percent enterprise hybrid cloud adoption predicted by 2017, APLUS is well positioned to connect cloud transactions leveraging LinuxONE. Throw in IBM’s expansion of blockchain capabilities and the APLUS move looks even smarter.

With the growth of international visitors spending money, IBM notes, and the emergence of FinTech firms in Japan have led to a diversification of payment methods the local financial industry struggles to respond. APLUS, which issues well-known credit cards such as T Card Plus, plans to offer leading-edge financial services by merging groups to achieve lean operations and improved productivity and efficiency. Choosing to update its credit card payment system with LinuxONE infrastructure, APLUS will benefit from an advanced IT environment to support its business growth by helping provide near-constant uptime. In addition to updating its server architecture, APLUS has deployed IBM storage to manage mission-critical data, the IBM DS8880 mainframe-attached storage that delivers integration with IBM z Systems and LinuxONE environments.

LinuxONE, however, was one part of the IBM Systems story Rosamilia set out to tell.  There also is the z13s, for encrypted hybrid clouds and the z/OS platform for Apache Spark data analytics and even more secure cloud services via blockchain on LinuxONE, by way of Bluemix or on premises.

z/OS will get attention in 2017 too. “z/OS is the best damn OLTP system in the world,” declared Rosamilia. He went on to imply that enhancements and upgrades to key z systems were coming in 2017, especially CICS, IMS, and a new release of DB2. Watch for new announcements coming soon as IBM tries to push z platform performance and capacity for z/OS and OLTP.

Rosamilia also talked up the POWER story. Specifically, Google and Rackspace have been developing OpenPOWER systems for the Open Compute Project.  New POWER LC servers running POWER8 and the NVIDIA NVLink accelerator, more innovations through the OpenCAPI Consortium, and the team of IBM and Nvidia to deliver PowerAI, part of IBM’s cognitive efforts.

As much as Rosamilia may have wanted to talk about platforms and systems IBM continues to avoid using terms like systems and platforms. So Rosamilia’s real intent was to discuss z and Power in conjunction with IBM’s strategic initiatives.  Remember these: cloud, big data, mobile, analytics. Lately, it seems, those initiatives have been culled down to cloud, hybrid cloud, and cognitive systems.

IBM’s current message is that IT innovation no longer comes from just the processor. Instead, it comes through scaling performance by workload and sustaining leadership through ecosystem partnerships.  We’ve already seen some of the fruits of that innovation through the Power community. Would be nice to see some of that coming to the z too, maybe through the open mainframe project. But that isn’t about z/0S. Any boost in CICS, DB2, and IMS will have to come from the core z team. The open mainframe project is about Linux on z.

The first glimpse we had of this came last spring in a system dubbed Minsky, which was described back then by commentator Timothy Prickett Morgan. With the Minsky machine, IBM is using NVLink ports on the updated Power8 CPU, which was shown in April at the OpenPower Summit and is making its debut in systems actually manufactured by ODM Wistron and rebadged, sold, and supported by IBM. The NVLink ports are bundled up in a quad to deliver 80 GB/sec bandwidth between a pair of GPUs and between each GPU and the updated Power8 CPU.

The IBM version, Morgan describes, aims to create a very brawny node with very tight coupling of GPUs and CPUs so they can better share memory, have fewer overall GPUs, and more bandwidth between the compute elements. IBM is aiming Minsky at HPC workloads, according to Morgan, but there is no reason it cannot be used for deep learning or even accelerated databases.

Is this where today’s z data center managers want to go?  No one is likely to spurn more performance, especially if it is accompanied with a price/performance improvement.  Whether rank-and-file z data centers are queueing up for AI or cognitive workloads will have to be seen. The sheer volume and scale of expected activity, however, will require some form of automated intelligent assist.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at technologywriter.com and here

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