Posts Tagged ‘cognitive computing’

IT Security Enters the Cooperative Era

April 20, 2018

Ever hear of the cybersecurity tech accord?  It was  announced on Tuesday. Microsoft, Facebook, and 32 other companies signed aboard.  Absent from the signing were Apple, Alphabet and Amazon. Also missing was IBM. Actually, IBM was already at the RSA Conference making its own security announcement of an effort to help cybersecurity teams collaborate just like the attackers they’re defending against do via the dark web by sharing information among themselves.

IBM security control center

Tuesday’s Cybersecurity Tech Accord amounted to a promise to work together on cybersecurity issues. Specifically, the companies promise to work against state sponsored cyberattacks. The companies also agreed to collaborate on stronger defense systems and protect against the tampering of their products, according to published reports.

Giving importance to the accord is the financial impact of cybersecurity attacks on businesses and organizations, which is projected to reach $8 trillion by 2022. Other technology leaders, including Cisco, HP, Nokia, Oracle also joined the accord.

A few highly visible and costly attacks were enough to galvanize the IT leaders. In May, WannaCry ransomware targeted more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries, including 48 UK medical facilities. In a bid to help, Microsoft issued patches for old Windows systems, even though it no longer supports them, because so many firms run old software that was vulnerable to the attack, according to published reports. The White House attributed the attack to North Korea.

In June, NotPetya ransomware, which initially targeted computers in Ukraine before spreading, infected computers, locked down their hard drives, and demanded a $300 ransom to be paid in bitcoin. Even victims that paid weren’t able to recover their files, according to reports. The British government said Russia was behind the global cyberattack.

The Cybersecurity Tech Accord is modeled after a digital Geneva Convention, with a long-term goal of updating international law to protect people in times of peace from malicious cyberattacks, according to Microsoft president Brad Smith.

Github’s chief strategy officer Julio Avalos wrote in a separate blog post that “protecting the Internet is becoming more urgent every day as more fundamental vulnerabilities in infrastructure are discovered—and in some cases used by government organizations for cyberattacks that threaten to make the Internet a theater of war.” He continued: “Reaching industry-wide agreement on security principles and collaborating with global technology companies is a crucial step toward securing our future.”

Added Sridhar Muppidi, Co-CTO of IBM Security about the company’s efforts to help cybersecurity teams collaborate like the attackers they’re working against, in a recent published interview: The good guys have to collaborate with each other so that we can provide a better and more secure and robust systems. So we talk about how we share the good intelligence. We also talk about sharing good practices, so that we can then build more robust systems, which are a lot more secure.

It’s the same concept of open source model, where you provide some level of intellectual capital with an opportunity to bring in a bigger community together so that we can take the problem and solve it better and faster. And learn from each other’s mistakes and each other’s advancement so that it can help, individually, each of our offerings. So, end of the day, for a topic like AI, the algorithm is going to be an algorithm. It’s the data, it’s the models, it’s the set of things which go around it which make it very robust and reliable, Muppidi continued.

IBM appears to be practicing what it preaches by facilitating the collaboration of people and machines in defense of cyberspace. Last year at RSA, IBM introduced Watson to the cybersecurity industry to augment the skills of analysts in their security investigations. This year investments and artificial intelligence (AI), according to IBM, were made with a larger vision in mind: a move toward “automation of response” in cybersecurity.

At RSA, IBM also announced the next-generation IBM Resilient Incident Response Platform (IRP) with Intelligent Orchestration. The new platform promises to accelerate and sharpen incident response by seamlessly combining incident case management, orchestration, automation, AI, and deep two-way partner integrations into a single platform.

Maybe DancingDinosaur, which has spent decades acting as an IT-organization-of-one, can finally turn over some of the security chores to an intelligent system, which hopefully will do it better and faster.

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 introduced 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.

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.

Dinosaurs Strike Back in IBM Business Value Survey

March 2, 2018

IBM’s Institute of Business Value (IBV) recently completed a massive study based 12,000 interviews of executives of legacy c-suite companies. Not just CEO and CIO but COO, CFO, CMO, and more, including the CHO. The CHO is the Chief Happiness Officer. Not sure what a CHO actually does but if one had been around when DancingDinosaur was looking for a corporate job he might have stayed on the corporate track instead of pursuing the independent analyst/writer dream.

(unattributed IBM graphic)

IBV actually referred to the study as “Incumbents strike back.” The incumbents being the legacy businesses the c-suite members represent. In a previous c-suite IBV study two years ago, the respondents expressed concern about being overwhelmed and overrun by new upstart companies, the born-on-the-web newcomers. In many ways the execs at that time felt they were under attack.

Spurred by fear, the execs in many cases turned to a new strategy that takes advantage of what has always been their source of strength although they often lacked the ways and means to take advantage of that strength; the huge amounts of data they have gathered and stored, for decades in some cases. With new cognitive systems now able to extract and analyze this legacy data and combine it with new data, they could actually beat some of the upstarts. Finally, they could respond like nimble, agile operations, not the lumbering dinosaurs as they were often portrayed.

“Incumbents have become smarter about leveraging valuable data, honing their employees’ skills, and in some cases, acquired possible disruptors to compete in today’s digital age,” the study finds, according to CIO Magazine, which published excerpts from the study here. The report reveals 72 percent of surveyed CxOs claimed the next wave of disruptive innovation will be led by the incumbents who pose a significant competitive threat to new entrants and digital players. By comparison, the survey found only 22 percent of respondents believe smaller companies and start-ups are leading disruptive change. This presents a dramatic reversal from a similar but smaller IBV survey two years ago.

Making possible this reversal is not only growing awareness among c-level execs of the value of their organizations’ data and the need to use it to counter the upstarts, but new technologies, approaches like DevOps, easier-to-use dev tools, the increasing adoption of Linux, and mainframes like the z13, z14, and LinuxONE, which have been optimized for hybrid and cloud computing.  Also driving this is the emergence of platform options as a business strategy.

The platform option may be the most interesting decision right now. To paraphrase Hamlet, to be (a platform for your industry) or not to be. That indeed is a question many legacy businesses will need to confront. When you look at platform business models, what is right for your organization. Will you create a platform for your industry or piggyback on another company’s platform? To decide you need to first understand the dynamics of building and operating a platform.

The IBV survey team explored that question and found the respondents pretty evenly divided with 54% reporting they won’t while the rest expect to build and operate a platform. This is not a question that you can ruminate over endlessly like Hamlet.  The advantage goes to those who can get there first in their industry segment. Noted IBV, only a few will survive in any one industry segment. It may come down to how finely you can segment the market for your platform and still maintain a distinct advantage. As CIO reported, the IBV survey found 57 percent of disruptive organizations are adopting a platform business model.

Also rising in importance is the people-talent-skills issue. C-level execs have always given lip service to the importance of people as in the cliché people are our greatest asset.  Based on the latest survey, it turns out skills are necessary but not sufficient. Skills must be accompanied by the right culture. As the survey found:  Companies that have the right culture in place are more successful. In that case, the skills are just an added adrenalin shot. Still the execs put people skills in top three. The IBV analysts conclude: People and talent is coming back. Guess we’re not all going to be replaced soon with AI or cognitive computing, at least not yet.

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 Jumps into the Next Gen Server Party with POWER9

February 15, 2018

IBM re-introduced its POWER9 lineup of servers  this week starting with 2-socket and 4-socket systems and more variations coming in the months ahead as IBM, along with the rest of the IT vendor community grapples with how to address changing data center needs. The first, the AC922, arrived last fall. DancingDinosaur covered it here. More, the S922/S914/S924 and H922/H924/L922, are promised later this quarter.

The workloads organizations are running these days are changing, often dramatically and quickly. One processor, no matter how capable or flexible or efficient will be unlikely to do the job going forward. It will take an entire family of chips.  That’s as true for Intel and AMR and the other chip players as IBM.

In some ways, IBM’s challenge is even qwerkier. Its chips will not only need to support Linux and Windows, but also IBMi and AIX. IBM simply cannot abandon its IBMi and AIX customer bases. So chips supporting IBMi and AIX are being built into the POWER9 family.

For IBMi the company is promising POWER9 exploitation for:

  • Expanding the secure-ability of IBMi with TLS, secure APIs, and logs for SIEM solutions
  • Expanded Install options with an installation process using USB 3.0 media
  • Encryption and compression for cloud storage
  • Increasing the productivity of developers and administrators

This may sound trivial to those who have focused on the Linux world and work with x86 systems too, but it is not for a company still mired in productive yet aging IBMi systems.

IBM also is promising POWER9 goodies for AIX, its legacy Unix OS, including:

  • AIX Security: PowerSC and PowerSC MFA updates for malware intrusion prevention and strong authentication
  • New workload acceleration with shared memory communications over RDMA (SMC-R)
  • Improved availability: AIX Live Update enhancements; GDR 1.2; PowerHA 7.2
  • Improved Cloud Mgmt: IBM Cloud PowerVC Manager for SDI; Import/Export;
  • AIX 7.2 native support for POWER9 – e.g. enabling NVMe

Again, if you have been running Linux on z or LinuxONE this may sound antiquated, but AIX has not been considered state-of-the-art for years. NVMe alone gives is a big boost.

But despite all the nice things IBM is doing for IBMi and AIX, DancingDinosaur believes the company clearly is betting POWER9 will cut into Intel x86 sales. But that is not a given. Intel is rolling out its own family of advanced x86 Xeon machines under the Skylake code name. Different versions will be packaged and tuned to different workloads. They are rumored, at the fully configured high end, to be quite expensive. Just don’t expect POWER9 systems to be cheap either.

And the chip market is getting more crowded. As Timothy Prickett Morgan, analyst at The Next Platform noted, various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers and divert sales from IBM’s POWER9 family. Also, AMD’s Epyc X86 processors have a good chance of stealing some market share from Intel’s Skylake. So the POWER9 will have to fight for every sale IBM wants.

Morgan went on: IBM differentiated the hardware and the pricing with its NVLink versions, 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. Where the Power8 chip had the advantage over the Intel’s Haswell and Broadwell Xeon E5 processors when it came to memory capacity and memory bandwidth per socket, and could meet or beat the Xeons when it came to performance on some workloads that is not yet apparent with the POWER9.

With the POWER9, however, IBM will likely charge a little less for companies buying its Linux-only variants, observes Morgan, effectively enabling IBM to win Linux deals, particularly where data analytics and open source databases drive the customer’s use case. Similarly, some traditional simulation and modeling workloads in the HPC and machine learning areas are ripe for POWER9.

POWER9 is not one chip. Packed into the chip are next-generation NVIDIA NVLink and OpenCAPI to provide significantly faster performance for attached GPUs. The PCI-Express 4.0 interconnect will be twice the speed of PCI-Express 3.0. The open POWER9 architecture also allows companies to mix a wide range of accelerators to meet various needs. Meanwhile, OpenCAPI can unlock coherent FPGAs to support varied accelerated storage, compute, and networking workloads. IBM also is counting on the 300+ members of the OpenPOWER Foundation and OpenCAPI Consortium to launch innovations for POWER9. Much is happening: Stay tuned to DancingDinosaur

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 Q Network Promises to Commercialize Quantum

December 14, 2017

The dash to quantum computing is well underway and IBM is preparing to be one of the leaders. When IBM gets there it will find plenty of company. HPE, Dell/EMC, Microsoft and more are staking out quantum claims. In response IBM is speeding the build-out of its quantum ecosystem, the IBM Q Network, which it announced today.

IBM’s 50 qubit system prototype

Already IBM introduced its third generation of quantum computers in Nov., a prototype 50 qubit system. IBM promises online access to the IBM Q systems by the end of 2017, with a series of planned upgrades during 2018. IBM is focused on making available advanced, scalable universal quantum computing systems to clients to explore practical applications.

Further speeding the process, IBM is building a quantum computing ecosystem of big companies and research institutions. The result, dubbed IBM Q Network, will consist of a worldwide network of individuals and organizations, including scientists, engineers, business leaders, and forward thinking companies, academic institutions, and national research labs enabled by IBM Q. Its mission: advancing quantum computing and launching the first commercial applications.

Two particular goals stand out: Engage industry leaders to combine quantum computing expertise with industry-oriented, problem-specific expertise to accelerate development of early commercial uses. The second: expand and train the ecosystem of users, developers, and application specialists that will be essential to the adoption and scaling of quantum computing.

The key to getting this rolling is the groundwork IBM laid with the IBM Q Experience, which IBM initially introduced in May of 2016 as a 5 cubit system. The Q Experience (free) upgrade followed with a 16-qubit upgrade in May, 2017. The IBM effort to make available a commercial universal quantum computer for business and science applications has increased with each successive rev until today with a prototype 50 cubit system delivered via the IBM Cloud platform.

IBM opened public access to its quantum processors over a year ago  to serve as an enablement tool for scientific research, a resource for university classrooms, and a catalyst for enthusiasm. Since then, participants have run more than 1.7M quantum experiments on the IBM Cloud.

To date IBM was pretty easy going about access to the quantum computers but now that they have a 20 cubit system and 50 cubit system coming the company has become a little more restrictive about who can use them. Participation in the IBM Q Network is the only way to access these advanced systems, which involves a commitment of money, intellectual property, and agreement to share and cooperate, although IBM implied at any early briefing that it could be flexible about what was shared and what could remain an organization’s proprietary IP.

Another reason to participate in the Quantum Experience is QISKit, an open source quantum computing SDK anyone can access. Most DancingDinosaur readers, if they want to participate in IBM’s Q Network will do so as either partners or members. Another option, a Hub, is really targeted for bigger, more ambitious early adopters. Hubs, as IBM puts it, provide access to IBM Q systems, technical support, educational and training resources, community workshops and events, and opportunities for joint work.

The Q Network has already attracted some significant interest for organizations at every level and across a variety of industry segments. These include automotive, financial, electronics, chemical, and materials players from across the globe. Initial participants include JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, and University of Melbourne.

As noted at the top, other major players are staking out their quantum claims, but none seem as far along or as comprehensive as IBM:

  • Dell/EMC is aiming to solve complex, life-impacting analytic problems like autonomous vehicles, smart cities, and precision medicine.
  • HPE appears to be focusing its initial quantum efforts on encryption.
  • Microsoft, not surprisingly, expects to release a new programming language and computing simulator designed for quantum computing.

As you would expect, IBM also is rolling out IBM Q Consulting to help organizations envision new business value through the application of quantum computing technology and provide customized roadmaps to help enterprises become quantum-ready.

Will quantum computing actually happen? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. I first heard about quantum physics in high school 40-odd years ago. It was baffling but intriguing then. Today it appears more real but still nothing is assured. If you’re willing to burn some time and resources to try it, go right ahead. Please tell DancingDinosaur what you find.

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’s POWER9 Races to AI

December 7, 2017

IBM is betting the future of its Power Systems on artificial intelligence (AI). The company introduced its newly designed POWER9 processor publicly this past Tuesday. The new machine, according to IBM, is capable of shortening the training of deep learning frameworks by nearly 4x, allowing enterprises to build more accurate AI applications, faster.

IBM engineer tests the POWER9

Designed for the post-CPU era, the core POWER9 building block is the IBM Power Systems AC922. The AC922, notes IBM, is the first to embed PCI-Express 4.0, next-generation NVIDIA NVLink, and OpenCAPI—3 interface accelerators—which together can accelerate data movement 9.5x faster than PCIe 3.0 based x86 systems. The AC922 is designed to drive demonstrable performance improvements across popular AI frameworks such as Chainer, TensorFlow and Caffe, as well as accelerated databases such as Kinetica.

More than a CPU under the AC922 cover

Depending on your sense of market timing, POWER9 may be coming at the best or worst time for IBM.  Notes industry observer Timothy Prickett Morgan, The Next Platform: “The server market is booming as 2017 comes to a close, and IBM is looking to try to catch the tailwind and lift its Power Systems business.”

As Morgan puts it, citing IDC 3Q17 server revenue figures, HPE and Dell are jockeying for the lead in the server space, and for the moment, HPE (including its H3C partnership in China) has the lead with $3.32 billion in revenues, compared to Dell’s $3.07 billion, while Dell was the shipment leader, with 503,000 machines sold in Q3 2017 versus HPE’s 501,400 machines shipped. IBM does not rank in the top five shippers but thanks in part to the Z and big Power8 boxes, IBM still holds the number three server revenue generator spot, with $1.09 billion in sales for the third quarter, according to IDC. The z system accounted for $673 million of that, up 63.8 percent year-on year due mainly to the new Z. If you do the math, Morgan continued, the Power Systems line accounted for $420.7 million in the period, down 7.2 percent from Q3 2016. This is not surprising given that customers held back knowing Power9 systems were coming.

To get Power Systems back to where it used to be, Morgan continued, IBM must increase revenues by a factor of three or so. The good news is that, thanks to the popularity of hybrid CPU-GPU systems, which cost around $65,000 per node from IBM, this isn’t impossible. Therefore, it should take fewer machines to rack up the revenue, even if it comes from a relatively modest number of footprints and not a huge number of Power9 processors. More than 90 percent of the compute in these systems is comprised of GPU accelerators, but due to bookkeeping magic, it all accrues to Power Systems when these machines are sold. Plus IBM reportedly will be installing over 10,000 such nodes for the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra supercomputers in the coming two quarters, which should provide a nice bump. And once IBM gets the commercial Power9 systems into the field, sales should pick up again, Morgan expects.

IBM clearly is hoping POWER9 will cut into Intel x86 sales. But that may not happen as anticipated. Intel is bringing out its own advanced x86 Xeon machine, Skylake, rumored to be quite expensive. Don’t expect POWER9 systems to be cheap either. And the field is getting more crowded. Morgan noted various ARM chips –especially ThunderX2 from Cavium and Centriq 2400 from Qualcomm –can boost non-X86 numbers and divert sales from IBM’s Power9 system. Also, AMD’s Epyc X86 processors have a good chance of stealing some market share from Intel’s Skylake. So the Power9 will have to fight for every sale IBM wants and take nothing for granted.

No doubt POWER9 presents a good case and has a strong backer in Google, but even that might not be enough. Still, POWER9 sits at the heart of what is expected to be the most powerful data-intensive supercomputers in the world, the Summit and Sierra supercomputers, expected to knock off the world’s current fastest supercomputers from China.

Said Bart Sano, VP of Google Platforms: “Google is excited about IBM’s progress in the development of the latest POWER technology;” adding “the POWER9 OpenCAPI bus and large memory capabilities allow further opportunities for innovation in Google data centers.”

This really is about deep learning, one of the latest hot buzzwords today. Deep learning emerged as a fast growing machine learning method that extracts information by crunching through millions of processes and data to detect and rank the most important aspects of the data. IBM designed the POWER9 chip to manage free-flowing data, streaming sensors, and algorithms for data-intensive AI and deep learning workloads on Linux.  Are your people ready to take advantage of POWER9?

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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