Posts Tagged ‘blockchain’

IBM Eager to Move Blockchain to Next Level

May 24, 2018

Blockchain, as IBM sees it, has moved past the days of proof of concept and is now focused on platform industrialization and best practices. As for industries, financial systems remain its primary target although areas like digital identity, provenance, and asset management are gaining interest fast. To that end the company is offering the IBM Blockchain Platform on a free trial basis. The Platform promises to make any developer a blockchain developer fast. According to IBM, hundreds of companies on dozens of blockchain networks are solving business challenges across varied industries, not just financial services.

Although IBM has been a blockchain pioneer, especially in the enterprise segment, which is getting more crowded.  Specifically, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), which lists over 500 members, recently made available to the public the release of its Enterprise Ethereum Architecture Stack. According to EEA, the stack defines the building blocks needed to drive the Web 3.0 era of decentralized, connective intelligence that will work anywhere and is capable of facilitating smart contracts without intermediaries. The stack, available as a free public document to download here, incorporates components developed by the EEA.

IBM is not saying much about EEA, preferring instead to focus on Hyperledger. This much, however, an IBMer was willing to say: Our main POV is that Hyperledger is the only blockchain platform designed for enterprises from the ground up.  Ethereum is better suited for crypto currencies and ICOs.  But we know they are working to move into the enterprise space. Interestingly, of the 500 companies listed as EEA members, including many of IBM’s consulting and vendor peers but not IBM.

The IBMer continued: we have had many clients start with Ethereum and discover that it does not meet their business needs … and then they move to Hyperledger, which as a permissioned blockchain network does meet enterprise business needs. Permissioned means you have to be approved to join the network, presumably making it more secure.

IBM clearly has locked onto the idea of a permissioned blockchain network as important, at least among enterprise customers. The IBMer continued: we state that you can have a public permissioned blockchain network—and you’ll start to see more of these around payments.

The IBMer noted: it’s unclear what Ethereum’s permissioning method is; what their governance model is.  There is lack of agreement around new types of consensus.

In case you have missed the blockchain buzz of the past few years blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger for recording the history of transactions. Immutable means that once a transaction has been accepted by the other nodes on the blockchain it cannot be removed or deleted. It sits there as a permanent record for the life of the blockchain. Of course, corrections can be made but they are added as another immutable record. As such, depending on the number of nodes in the blockchain, you can end up with a long chain of immutable records, sort of an auditor’s dream or nightmare.

A business blockchain, such as IBM Blockchain and the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project, provides a permissioned network with known identities. And unlike Bitcoin, there is no need for cryptocurrency exchange. Where any payments are required, you make them as you would in any transaction.  Except with blockchain the transaction exists forever as an immutable record. From initial order to delivery acceptance to payment it all exists as a permanent record. Warning: sleazy business partners should avoid blockchain transactions since you won’t be able to weasel out so easily.

To make blockchain easy, IBM is developing what it describes as enterprise-ready solutions. For example, to address the provenance of diamonds and avoid buying what are called blood diamonds, IBM has backed TrustChain, which tracks six styles of diamond and gold engagement rings on a blockchain network, enabling dealers to know who handled the diamond from the mine to processor to the buyer’s finger.

Similarly, IBM’s Food Trust blockchain includes Dole, Driscoll’s, Golden State Foods, Kroger, McCormick and Company, McLane Company, Nestle, Tyson Foods, Unilever, and Walmart to address food safety. So the next time you eat something and get a stomach ache, just turn to Food Trust to track down the culprit.

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.

IBM Grows Quantum Ecosystem

April 27, 2018

It is good that you aren’t dying to deploy quantum computing soon because IBM readily admits that it is not ready for enterprise production now or in several weeks or maybe several months. IBM, however, continues to assemble the building blocks you will eventually need when you finally feel the urge to deploy a quantum application that can address a real problem that you need to resolve.

cryostat with prototype of quantum processor

IBM is surprisingly frank about the state of quantum today. There is nothing you can do at this point that you can’t simulate on a conventional or classical computer system. This situation is unlikely to change anytime soon either. For years to come, we can expect hybrid quantum and conventional compute environments that will somehow work together to solve very demanding problems, although most aren’t sure exactly what those problems will be when the time comes. Still at Think earlier this year IBM predicted quantum computing will be mainstream in 5 years.

Of course, IBM has some ideas of where the likely problems to solve will be found:

  • Chemistry—material design, oil and gas, drug discovery
  • Artificial Intelligence—classification, machine learning, linear algebra
  • Financial Services—portfolio optimization, scenario analysis, pricing

It has been some time since the computer systems industry had to build a radically different kind of compute discipline from scratch. Following the model of the current IT discipline IBM began by launching the IBM Q Network, a collaboration with leading Fortune 500 companies and research institutions with a shared mission. This will form the foundation of a quantum ecosystem.  The Q Network will be comprised of hubs, which are regional centers of quantum computing R&D and ecosystem; partners, who are pioneers of quantum computing in a specific industry or academic field; and most recently, startups, which are expected to rapidly advance early applications.

The most important of these to drive growth of quantum are the startups. To date, IBM reports eight startups and it is on the make for more. Early startups include QC Ware, Q-Ctrl, Cambridge Quantum Computing (UK), which is working on a compiler for quantum computing, 1Qbit based in Canada, Zapata Computing located at Harvard, Strangeworks, an Austin-based tool developer, QxBranch, which is trying to apply classical computing techniques to quantum, and Quantum Benchmark.

Startups get membership in the Q network and can run experiments and algorithms on IBM quantum computers via cloud-based access; provide deeper access to APIs and advanced quantum software tools, libraries, and applications; and have the opportunity to collaborate with IBM researchers and technical SMEs on potential applications, as well as with other IBM Q Network organizations. If it hasn’t become obvious yet, the payoff will come from developing applications that solve recognizable problems. Also check out QISKit, a software development kit for quantum applications available through GitHub.

The last problem to solve is the question around acquiring quantum talent. How many quantum scientists, engineers, or programmers do you have? Do you even know where to find them? The young people excited about computing today are primarily interested in technologies to build sexy apps using Node.js, Python, Jupyter, and such.

To find the people you need to build quantum computing systems you will need to scour the proverbial halls of MIT, Caltech, and other top schools that produce physicists and quantum scientists. A scan of salaries for these people reveals $135,000- $160,000, if they are available at all.

The best guidance from IBM on starting is to start small. The industry is still at the building block stage; not ready to throw specific application at real problems. In that case sign up for IBM’s Q Network and get some of your people engaged in the opportunities to get educated in quantum.

When DancingDinosaur first heard about quantum physics he was in a high school science class decades ago. It was intriguing but he never expected to even be alive to see quantum physics becoming real, but now it is. And he’s still here. Not quite ready to sign up for QISKit and take a small qubit machine for a spin in the cloud, but who knows…

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

IBM Introduces Skinny Z Systems

April 13, 2018

Early this week IBM unveiled two miniaturized mainframe models, dubbed skinny mainframes, it said are easier to deploy in a public or private cloud facility than their more traditional, much bulkier predecessors. Relying on all their design tricks, IBM engineers managed to pack each machine into a standard 19-inch rack with space to spare, which can be used for additional components.

Z14 LinuxONE Rockhopper II, 19-inch rack

The first new mainframe introduced this week, also in a 19-inch rack, is the Z14 model ZR1. You can expect subsequent models to increment the model numbering.  The second new machine is the LinuxONE Rockhopper II, also in a 19-inch rack.

In the past, about a year after IBM introduced a new mainframe, say the z10, it was introduced what it called a Business Class (BC) version. The BC machines were less richly configured, less expandable but delivered comparable performance with lower capacity and a distinctly lower price.

In a Q&A analyst session IBM insisted the new machines would be priced noticeably lower, as were the BC-class machines of the past. These are not comparable to the old BC machines. Instead, they are intended to attract a new group of users who face new challenges. As such, they come cloud-ready. The 19-inch industry standard, single-frame design is intended for easy placement into existing cloud data centers alongside other components and private cloud environments.

The company, said Ross Mauri, General Manager IBM Z, is targeting the new machines toward clients seeking robust security with pervasive encryption, cloud capabilities and powerful analytics through machine learning. Not only, he continued, does this increase security and capability in on-premises and hybrid cloud environments for clients, IBM will also deploy the new systems in IBM public cloud data centers as the company focuses on enhancing security and performance for increasingly intensive data loads.

In terms of security, the new machines will be hard to beat. IBM reports the new machines capable of processing over 850 million fully encrypted transactions a day on a single system. Along the same lines, the new mainframes do not require special space, cooling or energy. They do, however, still provide IBM’s pervasive encryption and Secure Service Container technology, which secures data serving at a massive scale.

Ross continued: The new IBM Z and IBM LinuxONE offerings also bring significant increases in capacity, performance, memory and cache across nearly all aspects of the system. A complete system redesign delivers this capacity growth in 40 percent less space and is standardized to be deployed in any data center. The z14 ZR1 can be the foundation for an IBM Cloud Private solution, creating a data-center-in-a-box by co-locating storage, networking and other elements in the same physical frame as the mainframe server.  This is where you can utilize that extra space, which was included in the 19-inch rack.

The LinuxONE Rockhopper II can also accommodate a Docker-certified infrastructure for Docker EE with integrated management and scale tested up to 330,000 Docker containers –allowing developers to build high-performance applications and embrace a micro-services architecture.

The 19-inch rack, however, comes with tradeoffs, notes Timothy Green writing in The Motley Fool. Yes, it takes up 40% less floor space than the full-size Z14, but accommodates only 30 processor cores, far below the 170 cores supported by a full size Z14, , which fills a 24-inch rack. Both new systems can handle around 850 million fully encrypted transactions per day, a fraction of the Z14’s full capacity. But not every company needs the full performance and capacity of the traditional mainframe. For companies that don’t need the full power of a Z14 mainframe, notes Green, or that have previously balked at the high price or massive footprint of full mainframe systems, these smaller mainframes may be just what it takes to bring them to the Z. Now IBM needs to come through with the advantageous pricing they insisted they would offer.

The new skinny mainframe are just the latest in IBM’s continuing efforts to keep the mainframe relevant. It began over a decade ago with porting Linux to the mainframe. It continued with Hadoop, blockchain, and containers. Machine learning and deep learning are coming right along.  The only question for DancingDinosaur is when IBM engineers will figure out how to put quantum computing on the Z and squeeze it into customers’ public or private cloud environments.

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

IBM Shouldn’t Forget Its Server Platforms

April 5, 2018

The word coming out of IBM brings a steady patter about cognitive, Watson, and quantum computing, for which IBM predicted quantum would be going mainstream within five years. Most DancingDinosaur readers aren’t worrying about what’s coming in 2023 although maybe they should. They have data centers to run now and are wondering where they are going to get the system horsepower they will need to deliver IoT or Blockchain or any number of business initiatives clamoring for system resources today or tomorrow and all they’ve got are the z14 and the latest LinuxONE. As powerful as they were when first announced, do you think that will be enough tomorrow?

IBM’s latest server, the Z

Timothy Prickett Morgan, analyst at The Next Platform, apparently isn’t so sure. He writes in a recent piece how Google and the other hyperscalers need to add serious power to today’s server options. The solution involves “putting systems based on IBM’s Power9 processor into production.” This shouldn’t take anybody by surprise; almost as soon as IBM set up the Open Power consortium Rackspace, Google, and a handful of others started making noises about using Open POWER for a new type of data center server. The most recent announcements around Power9, covered here back in Feb., promise some new options with even more coming.

Writes Morgan: “Google now has seven applications that have more than 1 billion users – adding Android, Maps, Chrome, and Play to the mix – and as the company told us years ago, it is looking for any compute, storage, and networking edge that will allow it to beat Moore’s Law.” Notice that this isn’t about using POWER9 to drive down Intel’s server prices; Google faces a more important nemesis, the constraints of Moore’s Law.

Google has not been secretive about this, at least not recently. To its credit Google is making its frustrations known at appropriate industry events:  “With a technology trend slowdown and growing demand and changing demand, we have a pretty challenging situation, what we call a supply-demand gap, which means the supply on the technology side is not keeping up with this phenomenal demand growth,” explained Maire Mahony, systems hardware engineer at Google and its key representative at the OpenPower Foundation that is steering the Power ecosystem. “That makes it hard to for us to balance that curve we call performance per TCO dollar. This problem is not unique to Google. This is an industry-wide problem.” True, but the majority of data centers, even the biggest ones, don’t face looming multi-billion user performance and scalability demands.

Morgan continued: “Google has absolutely no choice but to look for every edge. The benefits of homogeneity, which have been paramount for the first decade of hyperscaling, no longer outweigh the need to have hardware that better supports the software companies like Google use in production.”

This isn’t Intel’s problem alone although it introduced a new generation of systems, dubbed Skylake, to address some of these concerns. As Morgan noted recently, “various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers.” So can AMD’s Epyc X86 processors. Similarly, the Open Power consortium offers an alternative in POWER9.

Morgan went on: IBM differentiated the hardware with its NVLink versions and, depending on the workload and the competition, with its most aggressive pricing and a leaner and cheaper microcode and hypervisor stack reserved for the Linux workloads that the company is chasing. IBM very much wants to sell its Power-Linux combo against Intel’s Xeon-Linux and also keep AMD’s Epyc-Linux at bay. Still, it is not apparent to Morgan how POWER9 will compete.

Success may come down to a battle of vendor ecosystems. As Morgan points out: aside from the POWER9 system that Google co-engineered with Rackspace Hosting, the most important contributions that Google has made to the OpenPower effort is to work with IBM to create the OPAL firmware, the OpenKVM hypervisor, and the OpenBMC baseboard management controller, which are all crafted to support little endian Linux, as is common on x86.

Guess this is the time wade into the endian morass. Endian refers to the byte ordering that is used, and IBM chips and a few others do them in reverse of the x86 and Arm architectures. The Power8 chip and its POWER9 follow-on support either mode, big or little endian. By making all of these changes, IBM has made the Power platform more palatable to the hyperscalers, which is why Google, Tencent, Alibaba, Uber, and PayPal all talk about how they make use of Power machinery, particularly to accelerate machine learning and generic back-end workloads. But as quickly as IBM jumped on the problem recently after letting it linger for years, it remains one more complication that must be considered. Keep that in mind when a hyperscaler like Google talks about performance per TCO dollar.

Where is all this going? Your guess is as good as any. The hyperscalers and the consortia eventually should resolve this and DancingDinosaur will keep watching. Stay tuned.

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

Mainframe ISVs Advance the Mainframe While IBM Focuses on Think

March 30, 2018

Last week IBM reveled in the attention of upwards of 30,000 visitors to its Think conference, reportedly a record for an IBM conference. Meanwhile Syncsort and Compuware stayed home pushing new mainframe initiatives. Specifically, Syncsort introduced innovations to deliver mainframe log and application data in real-time directly to Elastic for deeper next generation analytics through like Splunk, Hadoop and the Elastic Stack.

Syncsort Ironstone for next-gen analytics

Compuware reported that the percentage of organizations running at least half their business-critical applications on the mainframe expected to increase next year, although the loss of skilled mainframe staff, and the failure to subsequently fill those positions pose significant threats to application quality, velocity and efficiency. Compuware has been taking the lead in modernizing the mainframe developer experience to make it compatible with the familiar x86 experience.

According to David Hodgson, Syncsort’s chief product officer, many organizations are using Elastic’s Kibana to visualize Elasticsearch data and navigate the Elastic Stack. These organizations, like others, are turning to tools like Hadoop and Splunk to get a 360-degree view of their mainframe data enterprise-wide. “In keeping with our proven track record of enabling our customers to quickly extract value from their critical data anytime, anywhere, we are empowering enterprises to make better decisions by making mission-critical mainframe data available in another popular analytics platform,” he adds.

For cost management, Syncsort now offers Ironstream with the flexibility of MSU-based (capacity) or Ingestion-based pricing.

Compuware took a more global view of the mainframe. The mainframe, the company notes, is becoming more important to large enterprises as the percentage of organizations running at least half their business-critical applications on that platform expected to increase next year. However, the loss of skilled mainframe staff, and the failure to subsequently fill those positions, pose significant threats to application quality, velocity and efficiency.

These are among the findings of research and analysis conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Compuware.  According to the study, “As mainframe workload increases—driven by modern analytics, blockchain and more mobile activity hitting the platform—customer-obsessed companies should seek to modernize application delivery and remove roadblocks to innovation.”

The survey of mainframe decision-makers and developers in the US and Europe also revealed the growing mainframe importance–64 percent of enterprises will run more than half of their critical applications on the platform within the next year, up from 57 percent this year. And just to ratchet up the pressure a few notches, 72 percent of customer-facing applications at these enterprises are completely or very reliant on mainframe processing.

That means the loss of essential mainframe staff hurts, putting critical business processes at risk. Overall, enterprises reported losing an average of 23 percent of specialized mainframe staff in the last five years while 63 percent of those positions have not been filled.

There is more to the study, but these findings alone suggest that mainframe investments, culture, and management practices need to evolve fast in light of the changing market realities. As Forrester puts it: “IT decision makers cannot afford to treat their mainframe applications as static environments bound by long release cycles, nor can they fail to respond to their critical dependence with a retiring workforce. Instead, firms must implement the modern tools necessary to accelerate not only the quality, but the speed and efficiency of their mainframe, as well as draw [new] people to work on the platform.”

Nobody has 10 years or even three years to cultivate a new mainframer. You need to attract and cultivate talented x86 or ARM people now, equip each—him or her—with the sexiest, most efficient tools, and get them working on the most urgent items at the top of your backlog.

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

 

IBM Boosts AI at Think

March 23, 2018

Enterprise system vendors are racing to AI along with all the others. Writes Jeffrey Burt, an analyst at The Next Platform, “There continues to be an ongoing push among tech vendors to bring artificial intelligence (AI) and its various components – including deep learning and machine learning – to the enterprise. The technologies are being rapidly adopted by hyperscalers and in the HPC space, and enterprises stand to reap significant benefits by also embracing them.” Exactly what those benefits are still need to be specifically articulated and, if possible, quantified.

IBM Think Conference this week

For enterprise data centers running the Z or Power Systems, the most obvious quick payoff will be fast, deeper, more insightful data analytics along with more targeted guidance on actions to take in response. After that there still remains the possibility of more automation of operations but the Z already is pretty thoroughly automated and optimized. Just give it your operational and performance parameters and it will handle the rest.  In addition, vendors like Compuware and Syncsort have been making the mainframe more graphical and intuitive. The days of needing deep mainframe experience or expertise have passed. Even x86 admins can quickly pick up a modern mainframe today.

In a late 2016 study by Accenture that modeled the impact of AI for 12 developed economies. The research compared the size of each country’s economy in 2035 in a baseline scenario, which shows expected economic growth under current assumptions and an AI scenario reflecting expected growth once the impact of AI has been absorbed into the economy. AI was found to yield the highest economic benefits for the United States, increasing its annual growth rate from 2.6 percent to 4.6 percent by 2035, translating to an additional USD $8.3 trillion in gross value added (GVA). In the United Kingdom, AI could add an additional USD $814 billion to the economy by 2035, increasing the annual growth rate of GVA from 2.5 to 3.9 percent. Japan has the potential to more than triple its annual rate of GVA growth by 2035, and Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria could see their growth rates double. You can still find the study here.

Also coming out of Think this week was the announcement of an expanded Apple-IBM partnership around AI and machine learning (ML). The resulting AI service is intended for corporate developers to build apps themselves. The new service, Watson Services for Core ML, links Apple’s Core ML tools for developers that it unveiled last year with IBM’s Watson data crunching service. Core ML helps coders build machine learning-powered apps that more efficiently perform calculations on smartphones instead of processing those calculations in external data centers. It’s similar to other smartphone-based machine learning tools like Google’s TensorFlow Lite.

The goal is to help enterprises reimagine the way they work through a combination of Core ML and Watson Services to stimulate the next generation of intelligent mobile enterprise apps. Take the example of field technicians who inspect power lines or machinery. The new AI field app could feed images of electrical equipment to Watson to train it to recognize the machinery. The result would enable field technicians to scan the electrical equipment they are inspecting on their iPhones or iPads and automatically detect any anomalies. The app would eliminate the need to send that data to IBM’s cloud computing data centers for processing, thus reducing the amount of time it takes to detect equipment issues to near real-time.

Apple’s Core ML toolkit could already be used to connect with competing cloud-based machine learning services from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft to create developer tools that more easily link the Core ML service with Watson. For example, Coca-Cola already is testing Watson Services for Core ML to see if it helps its field technicians better inspect vending machines. If you want try it in your shop, the service will be free to developers to use now. Eventually, developers will have to pay.

Such new roll-your-own AI services represent a shift for IBM. Previously you had to work with IBM consulting teams. Now the new Watson developer services are intended to be bought in an “accessible and bite size” way, according to IBM, and sold in a “pay as you go” model without consultants.  In a related announcement at Think, IBM announced it is contributing the core of Watson Studio’s Deep Learning Service as an open source project called Fabric for Deep Learning. This will enable developers and data scientists to work together on furthering the democratization of deep learning.

Ultimately, the democratization of AI is the only way to go. When intelligent systems speak together and share insights everyone’s work will be faster, smarter. Yes, there will need to be ways to compensate distinctively valuable contributions but with over two decades of open source experience, the industry should be able to pretty easily figure that out.

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

IBM Leverages Strategic Imperatives to Win in Cloud

March 16, 2018

Some people may have been ready to count out IBM in the cloud. The company, however, is clawing its way back into contention faster than many imagined. In a recent Forbes Magazine piece, IBM credits 16,000 AI engagements, 400 blockchain engagements, and a couple of quantum computing pilots as driving its return as a serious cloud player.

IBM uses blockchain to win the cloud

According to Fortune, IBM has jumped up to third in cloud revenue with $17 billion, ranking behind Microsoft with $18.6 billion and Amazon, with $17.5. Among other big players, Google comes in seventh with $3 billion

In the esoteric world of quantum computing IBM is touting live projects underway with JPMorganChase, Daimler, and others. Bob Evans, a respected technology writer and now the principle of Evans Strategic Communications, notes that the latest numbers “underscore not only IBM’s aggressive moves into enterprise IT’s highest-potential markets,” but also the legitimacy of the company’s claims that it has joined the top ranks of the competitive cloud-computing marketplace alongside Microsoft and Amazon.

As reported in the Fortune piece, CEO Ginni Rometty, speaking to a quarterly analyst briefing, declared: “While IBM has a considerable presence in the public-cloud IaaS market because many of its clients require or desire that, it intends to greatly differentiate itself from the big IaaS providers via higher-value technologies such as AI, blockchain, cybersecurity and analytics.” These are the areas that Evans sees as driving IBM into the cloud’s top tier.

Rometty continued; “I think you know that for us the cloud has never been about having Infrastructure-as-a-Service-only as a public cloud, or a low-volume commodity cloud; Frankly, Infrastructure-as-a-Service is almost just a dialtone. For us, it’s always been about a cloud that is going to be enterprise-strong and of which IaaS is only a component.”

In the Fortune piece she then laid out four strategic differentiators for the IBM Cloud, which in 2017 accounted for 22% of IBM’s revenue:

  1. “The IBM Cloud is built for “data and applications anywhere,” Rometty said. “When we say you can do data and apps anywhere, it means you have a public cloud, you have private clouds, you have on-prem environments, and then you have the ability to connect not just those but also to other clouds. That is what we have done—all of those components.”
  2. The IBM Cloud is “infused with AI,” she continued, alluding to how most of the 16,000 AI engagements also involve the cloud. She cited four of the most-popular ways in which customers are using AI: customer service, enhancing white-collar work, risk and compliance, and HR.
  3. For securing the cloud IBM opened more than 50 cybersecurity centers around the world to ensure “the IBM Cloud is secure to the core,” Rometty noted.
  4. “And perhaps this the most important differentiator—you have to be able to extend your cloud into everything that’s going to come down the road, and that could well be more cyber analytics but it is definitely blockchain, and it is definitely quantum because that’s where a lot of new value is going to reside.”

You have to give Rometty credit: She bet big that IBM’s strategic imperatives, especially blockchain and, riskiest of all, quantum computing would eventually pay off. The company had long realized it couldn’t compete in high volume, low margin businesses. She made her bet on what IBM does best—advanced research—and stuck with it.  During those 22 consecutive quarters of revenue losses she stayed the course and didn’t publicly question the decision.

As Fortune observed: In quantum, IBM’s leveraging its first-mover status and has moved far beyond theoretical proposals. “We are the only company with a 50-qubit system that is actually working—we’re not publishing pictures of photos of what it might look like, or writings that say if there is quantum, we can do it—rather, we are scaling rapidly and we are the only one working with clients in development working on our quantum,” Rometty said.

IBM’s initial forays into commercial quantum computing are just getting started: JPMorganChase is working on risk optimization and portfolio optimization using IBM quantum computing;  Daimler is using IBM’s quantum technology to explore new approaches to logistics and self-driving car routes; and JSR is doing computational chemistry to create entirely new materials. None of these look like the payback is right around the corner. As DancingDinosaur wrote just last week, progress with quantum has been astounding but much remains to be done to get a functioning commercial ecosystem in place to support the commercialization of quantum computing for business on a large scale.

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

Value and Power of LinuxOne Emperor II

February 4, 2018

There is much value n the mainframe but it doesn’t become clear until you do a full TCO analysis. When you talk to an IBMer about the cost of a mainframe the conversation immediately shifts to TCO, usually in the form of how many x86 systems you would have to deploy to handle a comparable workload with similar quality of service.  The LinuxONE Emperor II, introduced in September, can beat those comparisons.

LinuxONE Emperor II

Proponents of x86 boast about the low acquisition cost of x86 systems. They are right if you are only thinking about a low initial acquisition cost. But you also have to think about the cost of software for each low-cost core you purchase, and for many enterprise workloads you will need to acquire a lot of cores. This is where costs can mount quickly.

As a result, software will likely become the highest TCO item because many software products are priced per core.  Often the amount charged for cores is determined by the server’s maximum number of physical cores, regardless of whether they actually are activated. In addition, some architectures require more cores per workload. Ouch! An inexpensive device suddenly becomes a pricy machine when all those cores are tallied and priced.

Finally, x86 to IBM Z core ratios differ per workload, but x86 almost invariably requires more cores than a z-based workload; remember, any LinuxONE is a Z System. For example, the same WebSphere workload on x86 that requires 10 – 12 cores may require only one IFL on the Z. The lesson here: whether you’re talking about system software or middleware, you have to consider the impact of software on TCO.

The Emperor II delivers stunning specs. The machine can be packed with up to 170 cores, as much as 32 TB of memory, and 160 PCIe slots. And it is flexible; use this capacity, for instance, to add more system resources—cores or memory—to service an existing Linux instance or clone more Linux instances. Think of it as scale-out capabilities on steroids, taking you far beyond what you can achieve in the x86 world and do it with just a few keystrokes. As IBM puts it, you might:

  • Dynamically add cores, memory, I/O adapters, devices, and network cards without disruption.
  • Grow horizontally by adding Linux instances or grow vertically by adding resources (memory, cores, slots) to existing Linux guests.
  • Provision for peak utilization.
  • After the peak subsides automatically return unused resources to the resource pool for reallocation to another workload.

So, what does this mean to most enterprise Linux data centers? For example, IBM often cites a large insurance firm. The insurer needed fast and flexible provisioning for its database workloads. The company’s approach directed it to deploy more x86 servers to address growth. Unfortunately, the management of software for all those cores had become time consuming and costly. The company deployed 32 x86 servers with 768 cores running 384 competitor’s database licenses.

By leveraging elastic pricing on the Emperor II, for example, it only needed one machine running 63 IFLs serving 64 competitor’s database licenses.  It estimated savings of $15.6 million over 5 years just by eliminating charges for unused cores. (Full disclosure: these figures are provided by IBM; DancingDinosaur did not interview the insurer to verify this data.) Also, note there are many variables at play here around workloads and architecture, usage patterns, labor costs, and more. As IBM warns: Your results may vary.

And then there is security. Since the Emperor II is a Z it delivers all the security of the newest z14, although in a slightly different form. Specifically, it provides:

  • Ultimate workload isolation and pervasive encryption through Secure Service Containers
  • Encryption of data at rest without application change and with better performance than x86
  • Protection of data in flight over the network with full end-to-end network security
  • Use of Protected Keys to secure data without giving up performance
  • Industry-leading secure Java performance via TLS (2-3x faster than Intel)

BTW the Emperor II also anchors IBM’s Blockchain cloud service. That calls for security to the max. In the end. the Emperor II is unlike any x86 Linux system.

  • EAL 5+ isolation, best in class crypto key protection, and Secure Service Containers
  • 640 Power cores in its I/O channels (not included in the core count)
  • Leading I/O capacity and performance in the industry
  • IBM’s shared memory vertical scale architecture with a better architecture for stateful workloads like databases and systems of record
  • Hardware designed to give good response time even with 100% utilization, which simplifies the solution and reduces the extra costs x86 users assume are necessary because they’re used to keeping a utilization safety margin.

This goes far beyond TCO.  Just remember all the things the Emperor II brings: scalability, reliability, container-based security and flexibility, and more.

…and Go Pats!

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a Boston-based 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.

IBM Halts Losing Quarterly Slide

January 25, 2018

With all respects to Casey at Bat author Ernest Thayer, joy may have returned to Mudville. IBM finally broke its 22 consecutive quarters losing streak and posted positive results in 4Q 17.  Fourth-quarter revenue of $22.5 billion, up 4 percent but that was just the start.

Watson and Weather Co. track flu

IBM is counting on its strategic imperatives to come through big and they did in 2017. Full-year strategic imperatives revenue of $36.5 billion, up 11 percent; represents 46 percent of IBM revenue. Similarly, IBM is making some gains in the highly competitive cloud business where IBM is fighting to position itself among the top ranks of formidable cloud players—Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. IBM did quite respectably in the cloud, posting $17 billion in cloud revenue, up 24 percent year to year.

DancingDinosaur readers will be interested to know that some of IBM’s various business segments, which have been a steady drain on IBM revenue turned things around in the 4th quarter. For example, Systems (systems hardware and operating systems software) saw revenues of $3.3 billion, up 32 percent driven by growth in IBM Z, Power Systems, and storage. That’s important to readers charged with planning their organization’s future with the Z or Power machines. They now can be confident that IBM mightn’t the sell the business tomorrow as it did with the x86 systems.

So where might IBM go in the future. “Our strategic imperatives revenue again grew at a double-digit rate and now represents 46 percent of our total revenue, and we are pleased with our overall revenue growth in the quarter.” said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president, and CEO.  She then continued: “During 2017, we established IBM as the blockchain leader for business. Looking ahead, we are uniquely positioned to help clients use data and AI to build smarter businesses.”

Added James Kavanaugh, IBM CFO: “Over the past several years we have invested aggressively in technology and our people to reposition IBM.  2018 will be all about reinforcing IBM’s leadership position,” he continued, “in key high-value segments of the IT industry, including cloud, AI, security and blockchain.”

IBM has done well in some business and technology segments. Specifically, the company reported gains in revenues from analytics, up 9 percent, mobile, up 23 percent, and security, up a whopping 132 percent.

Other segments have not done as well. Technology Services & Cloud Platforms (includes infrastructure services, technical support services, and integration software) continue to lose money. A number of investment analysts are happy with IBM’s financials but are not optimistic about what they portend for IBM’s future.

For instance, Bert Hochfeld, long/short equity, growth, event-driven, research analyst, writes in Seeking Alpha, “the real reason why strategic imperatives and cloud showed relatively robust growth last quarter has nothing to do with IBM’s pivots and everything to do with the success of IBM’s mainframe cycle. IBM’s Z system achieved 71% growth last quarter compared to 62% in the prior quarter. New Z Systems are being delivered with pervasive encryption, they are being used to support hybrid cloud architectures, and they are being used to support Blockchain solutions… Right now, the mainframe performance is above the prior cycle (z13) and consistent with the z12 cycle a few years ago. And IBM has enjoyed some reasonable success with its all-flash arrays in the storage business. Further, the company’s superscalar offering, Power9, is having success and, as many of its workloads are used for AI, its revenues get counted as part of strategic initiatives. But should investors count on a mainframe cycle and a high-performance computer cycle in making a long-term investment decision regarding IBM shares?

He continued: “IBM management has suggested that some of the innovations in the current product range including blockchain, cryptography, security and reliability will make this cycle different, and perhaps longer, then other cycles. The length of the mainframe cycle is a crucial component in management’s earnings estimate. It needs to continue at elevated levels at least for another couple of quarters. While that is probably more likely, is it really prudent to base an investment judgement on the length of a mainframe cycle?

Of course, many DancingDinosaur readers are basing their career and employment decisions on the mainframe or Power Systems. Let’s hope this quarter’s success encourages them; it sure beats 22 consecutive quarters of revenue declines.

Do you remember how Thayer’s poem ends? With the hopes and dreams of Mudville riding on him, it is the bottom of the 9th; Casey takes a mighty swing and… strikes out! Let’s hope this isn’t IBM.

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.

BMC’s 12th Annual Mainframe Survey Shows Z Staying Power

November 17, 2017

ARM processors are invading HPC and supercomputer segments. The Power9 is getting closer and closer to general commercial availability. IBM unveiled not one but two new quantum computers. Meanwhile, the Z continues to roll right along without skipping a beat, according to BMC’s 12th mainframe survey.

There is no doubt that the computing landscape is changing dramatically and will continue to change. Yet mainframe shops appear to be taking it all in stride. As Mark Wilson reported on the recently completed SHARE Europe conference in the UK, citing the keynote delivered by Compuware’s CEO Chris O’Malley: “By design, the post-modern mainframe is the most future ready platform in the world: the most reliable, securable, scalable, and cost efficient. Unsurprisingly, the mainframe remains the dominant, growing, and vital backbone for the worldwide economy. However, outdated processes and tools ensnared in an apathetic culture doggedly resistant to change, prevent far too many enterprises from unleashing its unique technical virtues and business value.”  If you doubt we are entering the post-modern mainframe era just look at the LinuxONE Emperor II or the z14.

Earlier this month BMC released its 12th annual mainframe survey. Titled 5 Myths Busted, you can find the report here.  See these myths right below:

  • Myth 1: Organizations have fully optimized mainframe availability
  • Myth 2: The mainframe is in maintenance mode; no one is modernizing
  • Myth 3: Executives are planning to replace their mainframes
  • Myth 4: Younger IT professionals are pessimistic about mainframe careers
  • Myth 5: People working on the mainframe today are all older

Everyone from prestigious executives like O’Malley to a small army of IBMers to lowly bloggers and analysts like DancingDinosaur have been pounding away at discrediting these myths for years. And this isn’t the first survey to thoroughly discredit mainframe skeptics.

The mainframe is growing: 48% of respondents saw MIPS growth in the last 12 months, over 50% of respondents forecast MIPS growth in the next 12 months, and 71% of large shops (10,000 MIPS or more) experienced MIPS growth in the last year. Better yet, these same shops forecast more growth in the next 12 months.

OK, the top four priorities of respondents remained the same this year. The idea that mainframe shops, however, are fully optimized and just cruising is dead wrong. Survey respondents still have a list of to-do of priorities:

  1. Cost reduction/optimization
  2. Data privacy/compliance
  3. Availability
  4. Application modernization

Maybe my favorite myth is that younger people have given up on the mainframe. BMC found that 53% of respondents are under age 50 and of this group, (age 30-49 with under 10 years of experience) overwhelmingly report a very positive view of the the mainframe future. The majority went so far as to say they see the workload of their mainframe growing and also view the mainframe as having a strong position of growth in the industry overall. This is reinforced by the growth of IBM’s Master of the Mainframe competition, which attracts young people in droves, over 85,000 to date, to work with the so-called obsolete mainframe.

And the mainframe, both the Z and the LinuxONE, is packed with technology that will continue to attract young people: Linux, Docker, Kubernetes, Java, Spark, and support for a wide range of both relational databases like DB2 and NoSQL databases like MongoDB. They use this technology to do mobile, IoT, blockchain, and more. Granted most mainframe shops are not ready yet to run these kinds of workloads. IBM, however, even introduced new container pricing for the new Z to encourage such workloads.

John McKenny, BMC’s VP of Strategy, has noticed growing interest in new workloads. “Yes, they continue to be mainly transactional applications but they are aimed to support new digital workloads too, such as doing business with mobile devices,” he noted.  Mobility and analytics, he added, are used increasingly to improve operations, and just about every mainframe shop has some form of cloud computing, often multiple clouds.

The adoption of Linux on the mainframe a decade ago imediatey put an end to the threat posed by x86. Since then, IBM has become a poster child for open source and a slew of new technologies, from Java to Hadoop to Spark to whatever comes next. Although traditional mainframe data centers have been slow to adopt these new technologies some are starting, and that along with innovative machines like the z14 and LinuxONE Emperor ll are what, ultimately, will keep the mainframe young and competitive.

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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