Posts Tagged ‘IBM’

IBM Taps PCM to Advance Neuron-based Cognitive Computing

August 19, 2016

Just a couple of months ago DancingDinosaur reported a significant IBM advance in phase change memory (PCM). Then earlier this month IBM announced success in creating randomly spiking neurons using phase-change materials to store and process data. According to IBM, this represents a significant step toward achieving energy-efficient, ultra-dense, integrated neuromorphic technologies for application in cognitive computing.

IBM Phase Change Neurons

Phase Change Neurons

This also represents big step toward a cognitive computer. According to IBM, scientists have theorized for decades that it should be possible to imitate the versatile computational capabilities of large populations of neurons as the human brain does. With PCM it appears to be happening sooner than the scientists expected. “We have been researching phase-change materials for memory applications for over a decade, and our progress in the past 24 months has been remarkable,” said IBM Fellow Evangelos Eleftheriou.

As the IBM researchers explain: Phase-change neurons consist of a chip with large arrays of phase-change devices that store the state of artificial neuronal populations in their atomic configuration. In the graphic above individual devices are accessed by means of an array of probes to allow for precise characterization, modeling and interrogation. The tiny squares are contact pads that are used to access the nanometer-scale, phase-change cells (not visible). The sharp probes touch the contact pads to change the phase configuration stored in the cells in response to the neuronal input. Each set of probes can access a population of 100 cells. The chip hosts only the phase-change devices that are the heart of the neurons. There are thousands to millions of these cells on one chip that can be accessed (in this particular graphic) by means of the sharp needles of the probe card.

Not coincidentally, this seems to be dovetailing with IBM’s sudden rush to cognitive computing overall, one of the company’s recent strategic initiatives that has lately moved to the forefront.  Just earlier this week IBM was updating industry analysts on the latest with Watson and IoT and, sure enough, cognitive computing plays a prominent role.

As IBM explains it, the artificial neurons designed by IBM scientists in Zurich consist of phase-change materials, including germanium antimony telluride, which exhibit two stable states, an amorphous one (without a clearly defined structure) and a crystalline one (with structure). These artificial neurons do not store digital information; they are analog, just like the synapses and neurons in our biological brain, which is what makes them so tempting for cognitive computing.

In the published demonstration, the team applied a series of electrical pulses to the artificial neurons, which resulted in the progressive crystallization of the phase-change material, ultimately causing the neurons to fire. In neuroscience, this function is known as the integrate-and-fire property of biological neurons. This forms the foundation for event-based computation and, in principle, is similar to how our brain triggers a response when we touch something hot.

Even a single neuron can exploit this integrate-and-fire property to detect patterns and discover correlations in real-time streams of event-based data. To that end, IBM scientists have organized hundreds of artificial neurons into populations and used them to represent fast and complex signals. Moreover, the artificial neurons have been shown to sustain billions of switching cycles, which would correspond to multiple years of operation at an update frequency of 100 Hz. The energy required for each neuron update was less than five picojoule and the average power less than 120 microwatts (for comparison, 60 million microwatts power a 60 watt lightbulb).

The examples the researchers have provided so far seem pretty conventional.  For example, IoT sensors can collect and analyze volumes of weather data collected at the network edge for faster forecasts. Artificial neurons could be used to detect patterns in financial transactions that identify discrepancies. Even data from social media can be used to discover new cultural trends in real time. To make this work, large populations of these high-speed, low-energy nano-scale neurons would most likely be used in neuromorphic coprocessors with co-located memory and processing units, effectively mixing neuron-based cognitive computing with conventional digital computing.

Makes one wonder if IBM might regret spending millions to dump its chip fabrication capabilities.  According to published reports Samsung is very interested in this chip technology and wants to put the new processing power to work fast. The processor, reportedly dubbed TrueNorth by IBM, uses 4,096 separate processing cores to form one standard chip. Each can operate independently and are designed for low power consumption. Samsung hopes  the chip can help with visual pattern recognition for use in autonomous cars, which might be just a few years away. So, how is IBM going to make any money from this with its chip fab gone and commercial cognitive computers still off in the future?

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

 

IBM Discounts z/OS Cloud Activity

August 12, 2016

The latest iteration of IBM’s z/OS workload pricing aims at to lower the cost of running cloud workloads.  In a recent announcement, z Systems Workload Pricing for Cloud (zWPC) for z/OS seeks to minimize the impact of new public cloud workload transaction growth on Sub-Capacity license charges. IBM did the same thing with mobile workloads when they started driving up the 4-hour workload averages on the z. As more z workloads interact with public clouds this should start to add up, if it hasn’t already.

bluemix garage -ni_5554516560

Bluemix Garages in the Cloud

As IBM puts it: zWPC applies to any organization that has implemented Sub-Capacity pricing via the basic AWLC or AEWLC pricing mechanisms for the usual MLC software suspects. These include z/OS, CICS, DB2, IMS, MQ and WebSphere Application Server (WAS).  An eligible transaction is one classified as Public Cloud-originated, connecting to a z/OS hosted transactional service and/or data source via a REST or SOAP web service.  Public cloud workloads are defined as transactions processed by named Public cloud application transactions identified as originating from a recognized Public Cloud offering, including but not limited to, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and more.

IBM appears to have simplified how you identify eligible workloads. As the company notes: zWPC does not require you to isolate the public cloud work in separate partitions, but rather offers an enhanced way of reporting. The z/OS Workload Manager (WLM) allows clients to use WLM classification rules to distinguish cloud workloads, effectively easing the data collection requirements for public cloud workload transactions.

So how much will you save? It reportedly reduces eligible hourly values by 60 percent. The discount produces an adjusted Sub-Capacity value for each reporting hour. What that translates into on your monthly IBM software invoice once all the calculations and fine print are considered amounts to a guess at this point. But at least you’ll save something. The first billing eligible under this program starts Dec. 1, 2016.

DancingDinosaur expects IBM to eventually follow with discounted z/OS workload pricing for IoT and blockchain transactions and maybe even cognitive activity. Right now the volume of IoT and blockchain activity is probably too low to impact anybody’s monthly license charges. Expect those technologies ramp up in coming years with many industry pundits projecting huge numbers—think billions and trillions—that will eventually impact the mainframe data center and associated software licensing charges.

Overall, Workload License Charges (WLC) constitute a monthly software license pricing metric applicable to IBM System z servers running z/OS or z/TPF in z/Architecture (64-bit) mode.  The driving principle of WLS amounts to pay-for-what-you-use, a laudable concept. In effect it lowers the cost of incremental growth while further reducing software costs by proactively managing associated peak workload utilization.

Generally, DancingDinosaur applauds anything IBM does to lower the cost of mainframe computing.  Playing with workload software pricing in this fashion, however, seems unnecessary. Am convinced there must be simpler ways to lower software costs without the rigmarole of metering and workload distribution tricks. In fact, a small mini-industry has cropped up among companies offering tools to reduce costs, primarily through various ways to redistribute workloads to avoid peaks.

A modification to WLC, the variable WLC (VWLC) called AWLC (Advanced) and the EWLC (Entry), aligns with most of the z machines introduced over the past couple of years.  The result, according to IBM, forms a granular cost structure based on MSU (CPU) capacity that applies to VWLC and associated pricing mechanisms.

From there you can further tweak the cost by deploying Sub-Capacity and Soft Capping techniques.  Defined Capacity (DC), according to IBM, allows the sizing of an LPAR in MSU such that the LPAR will not exceed the designated MSU amount.  Group Capacity Limit (GCL) extends the Defined Capacity principle for a single LPAR to a group of LPARs, allowing MSU resources to be shared accordingly.  BTW, a potential downside of GCL is that is one LPAR in the group can consume all available MSUs due to a rogue transaction. Again, an entire mini industry, or maybe no so mini, has emerged to help handle workload and capacity pricing on the z.

At some point in most of the conference pricing sessions the eyes of many attendees glaze over.  By Q&A time the few remaining pop up holding a copy of a recent invoice and ask what the hell this or that means and what the f$#%@#$ they can do about it.

Have to admit that DancingDinosaur did not attend the most recent SHARE conference, where pricing workshops can get quite energetic, so cannot attest to the latest fallout. Still, the general trend with mobile and now with cloud pricing discounts should be lower costs.

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

 

IBM Leads in TBR Private and Hybrid Cloud Surveys

August 4, 2016

IBM has been named number one in private clouds by independent technology market research firm Technology Business Research (TBR) as well as number one in TBR’s hybrid cloud environments survey. Ironically, as fast as IBM has been trying to distance itself from its legacy platform heritage it brings an advantage when it comes to clouds for some customers. “A footprint in legacy IT solutions and management is a strong predictor of private cloud vendor success, as private cloud solutions are typically the first step toward hybrid IT environments,” wrote TBR Cloud Senior Analyst Cassandra Mooshian.

1800FLOWERS Taps IBM Commerce Cloud

Courtesy of IBM: 1800 FLOWERS Taps IBM Cloud

Coming out on top of IBM’s 2Q16 financials reported here, were the company’s strategic initiatives, mainly cloud, analytics, and mobile, which generated positive revenue results. The TBR reports provide welcome reinforcement for IBM strategy doubters. As reported by IBM, the annual run rate for cloud as-a-service revenue — a subset of total cloud revenue — increased to $6.7 billion from $4.5 billion in the second quarter of 2015.  Revenues from analytics increased 5 percent.  Revenues from mobile increased 43 percent while security revenue increased 18 percent.

The TBR report also noted IBM leadership in overall vendor adoption for private cloud and in select private cloud segments due to its broad cloud and IT services portfolio, its variety of deployment options, and accompanying integration and optimization support. As a result, the company’s expertise and knowledge of both cloud and legacy technology make it easier for customers to opt for an IBM migration path to both private and hybrid clouds.

TBR also specifically called out of IBM cloud-friendly capabilities, including the comprehensive portfolio of cloud and hardware assets with security; cloud professional services that can span a customer’s entire IT environment; and a vertical approach to cloud combined with Watson technology. As for hybrid clouds, Kelsey Mason, Cloud Analyst at TBR, noted in the announcement: “Hybrid integration is the next stage in cloud adoption and will be the end state for many enterprise IT environments.” Enterprise hybrid adoption, TBR observed, now matches public adoption of a year ago, which it interprets as signaling a new level of maturity in companies’ cloud strategies.

What really counts, however, are customers who vote with their checkbooks.  Here IBM has been racking up cloud wins. For example, Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. company in July announced it will move the engine manufacturer’s business, engineering, and manufacturing enterprise systems to a fully managed and supported environment on the IBM Cloud infrastructure.

Said Brian Galovich, vice president and chief information officer, Pratt & Whitney, in the published announcement:  “Working with IBM and moving our three enterprise systems to a managed cloud service will give us the ability to scale quickly and meet the increased demands for computing services, data processing and storage based on Pratt & Whitney’s forecasted growth over the next decade.

Also in July, Dixons Carphone Group, Europe’s largest telecommunications retail and services company as the result of a 2014 merger, announced plans to migrate to the IBM Cloud from IBM datacenters in the United Kingdom to integrate two distinct infrastructures and enable easy scaling to better manage the peaks and valleys of seasonal shopping trends. Specifically, the company expects to migrate about 2,500 server images from both enterprises with supporting database and middleware components from both infrastructures to an IBM hybrid cloud platform that comprises a private IBM Cloud with bare metal servers for production workloads and public IBM Cloud platform for non-production workloads.

As a merged company it saw an opportunity to consolidate the infrastructures by leveraging cloud solutions for flexibility, performance and cost savings. After assessing the long-term values and scalability of multiple cloud providers, the company turned to IBM Cloud for a smooth transition to a hybrid cloud infrastructure. “We can trust IBM Cloud to seamlessly integrate the infrastructures of both companies into one hybrid cloud that will enable us to continue focusing on other parts of the business,” said David Hennessy, IT Director, Dixons Carphone, in the announcement.

As IBM’s 2Q16 report makes clear, once both these companies might have bought new IBM hardware platforms but that’s not the world today. At least they didn’t opt for AWS or Azure.

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

 

IBM’s DeepFlash 150 Completes Its Flash Lineup for Now

July 29, 2016

Two years ago DancingDinosaur wrote about new IBM Flash storage for the mainframe. That was about the DS8870, featuring 6-nines (99.9999) of availability and real-time-compression. Then this past May DancingDinosaur reported on another new IBM all-flash initiative, including the all-flash IBM DS8888 for the z, which also boasts 6-nines availability. Just this week IBM announced it is completing its flash lineup with the IBM DeepFlash 150, intended as a building block for SDS (software defined storage) infrastructures.

IBM DeepFlash 150IBM DeepFlash 150, courtesy of IBM

As IBM reports, the DeepFlash 150 does not use conventional solid-state drives (SSD). Instead, it relies on a systems-level approach that enables organizations to manage much larger data sets without having to manage individual SSD or disk drives. DeepFlash 150 comes complete with all the hardware necessary for enterprise and hyper-scale storage, including up to 64 purpose-engineered flash cards in a 3U chassis and 12-Gbps SAS connectors for up to eight host servers. The wide range of IBM Spectrum Storage and other SDS solutions available for DeepFlash 150 provides flash-optimized scale out and management along with large capacity for block, file and object storage.

The complication for z System shops is that you access the DeepFlash 150 through IBM Spectrum Scale. Apparently you can’t just plug the DeepFlash 150 into the z the way you would plug in the all flash DS8888. IBM Spectrum Scale works with Linux on z Systems servers or IBM LinuxONE systems running RHEL or SLES. Check out the documentation here.

As IBM explains in the Red Book titled IBM Spectrum Scale (GPFS) for Linux on z Systems: IBM Spectrum Scale provides a highly available clustering solution that augments the strengths of Linux on z by helping the z data center control costs and achieve higher levels of quality of service. Spectrum Scale, based on IBM General Parallel File System (GPFS) technology, is a high performance shared-disk file management solution that provides fast, reliable access to data from multiple nodes in a cluster environment. Spectrum Scale also allows data sharing in a mixed platform environment, which can provide benefits in cloud or analytics environments by eliminating the need of transferring data across platforms. When it comes to the DeepFlash 150 IBM is thinking about hyperscale data centers.

Hyperscale data centers can’t absorb the costs of constructing, managing, maintaining and cooling massive hyper- scale environments that use conventional mechanical storage, according to IBM. Those costs are driving the search for storage with a smaller physical footprint, lower costs, greater density, and, of course, much higher performance.

Enter DeepFlash 150, which introduces what IBM considers breakthrough economics for active data sets. The basic DeepFlash 150 hardware platform is priced under $1/GB. For big data deployments IBM recommends IBM Spectrum Scale with DeepFlash 150, providing customers with the overlying storage services and functionality critical for optimization of their big data workloads.

But even at $1/GB DeepFlash 150 isn’t going to come cheap. For starters consider how many gigabytes are in the terabytes or petabytes you will want to install. You can do the math. Even at $1/GB this is going to cost. Then you will need IBM Spectrum Scale. With DeepFlash 150 IBM did achieve extreme density of up to 170TB per rack unit, which adds up to a maximum 7PB of flash in a single rack enclosure.

IBM Spectrum Scale and the DeepFlash 150 are intended to support a wide range of file, object and Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) analytics work-loads. According to IBM, as a true SDS solution IBM Spectrum Scale can utilize any appropriate hardware and is designed specifically to maximize the benefits of hyper-scale storage systems like DeepFlash 150. Using a scale-out architecture, IBM Spectrum Scale can add servers or multiple storage types and incorporate them automatically into a single managed resource to maximize performance, efficiency, and data protection.

Although DeepFlash 150 can be used with a private cloud IBM seems to be thinking more in terms of hybrid clouds. To address today’s need for seamlessly integrating high-performance enterprise storage such as DeepFlash 150 with the nearly unlimited resources and capabilities of the cloud, IBM Spectrum Scale offers transparent cloud tiering to place data on cloud-based object storage or in a public cloud service. As IBM explains, the transparent cloud tiering feature of IBM Spectrum Scale can connect on- premises storage such as DeepFlash 150 directly to object storage or a commodity-priced cloud service. This allows enterprises to simultaneously leverage the economic, collaboration, and scale benefits of both on- premises and cloud storage while providing a single, powerful view of all data assets.

A Tech Target report on enterprise flash storage profiled 15 flash storage product lines. In general, the products claim maximum read IOPS ranging from 200,000 to 9 million, peak read throughput from 2.4 GBps to 46 GBps, and read latencies from 50 microseconds to 1 millisecond. The guide comes packed with a ton of caveats. And that’s why DancingDinosaur doesn’t think the DeepFlash 150 is the end of IBM’s flash efforts. Stay tuned.

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

 

IBM 2Q 2016 Report—Where’s z System and POWER?

July 22, 2016

“IBM continues to establish itself as the leading cognitive solutions and cloud platform company,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM chairman, president and chief executive officer, in a statement accompanying the latest IBM 2Q financial report. The strategic imperatives grew; second-quarter revenues from its cloud, analytics, and engagement units— increased 12 percent year to year.

IBM Quantum Computing Lab - Friday, April 29, 2016, Yorktown Heights, NY (Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

IBM Quantum Experience delivered via Cloud (Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

Where’s z and POWER? The z and POWER platforms continued to flounder: revenues of $2.0 billion, down 23.2 percent. Revenue reflects z Systems product cycle dynamics; gross profit margin improved in both z Systems and Power. “Product cycle dynamics” refers to the lack of a new z.  In the past year IBM introduced the new LinuxONE and, more recently a new z13s, essentially what used to be known as a Business Class mainframe.

There is no hint, however, of a new z, a z14 that will drive product dynamics upward. IBM showed a POWER roadmap going all the way out to the POWER10 in 2020 but nothing comparable for the z.

DancingDinosaur, a longtime big iron bigot, remains encouraged by IBM’s focus on its strategic initiatives and statements like this: “And we continue to invest for growth with recent breakthroughs in quantum computing, Internet of Things and blockchain solutions for the IBM Cloud.” IBM strategic initiatives in cloud, mobile, IoT, and blockchain will drive new use of the mainframe, especially as the projected volumes of things, transactions, users, and devices skyrocket.

Second-quarter revenues from the company’s strategic imperatives — cloud, analytics and engagement — increased 12 percent year to year.  Cloud revenues (public, private and hybrid) for the quarter increased 30 percent.  Cloud revenue over the trailing 12 months was $11.6 billion.  The annual run rate for cloud as-a-service revenue — a subset of total cloud revenue — increased to $6.7 billion from $4.5 billion in the second quarter of 2015.  Revenues from analytics increased 5 percent.  Revenues from mobile increased 43 percent and from security increased 18 percent.

IBM indirectly is trying to boost the z and the cloud. CSC and IBM  announced an alliance with IBM in which IBM will provide CSC Cloud Managed Services for z Systems. CSC already includes IBM SoftLayer as part of its “Service-enabled Enterprise” strategy. “Cloud for z” extends that offering and will be of interest to current and potential mainframe customers in healthcare, insurance, and finance. CSC still sees life in the managed mainframe market, and IBM Global Technology Services, a competitor to CSC, apparently is happy to let them sell managed cloud services for mainframes. All this is taking place as IBM scrambles to secure a leadership share of cloud revenue, and any cloud billing CSC brings will help.

Microsoft, like IBM, claimed big cloud momentum on its fourth quarter conference call, according to a report in Fortune Magazine. It was enough to send Microsoft share price up 4% at one point in after hours trading.

As Fortune notes, for Microsoft as for IBM and other legacy IT providers like Oracle, putting up big cloud numbers is mandatory as more companies change the way they buy IT products. Instead of purchasing hundreds or thousands of new servers or storage boxes every few years, more companies are running their software and storing their data on shared public cloud infrastructure, like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, the Google Compute Platform, or the IBM Cloud.

For reporting purposes, Microsoft combines Azure with other products in its intelligent cloud product segment. Overall, that segment’s revenue grew about 7% year over year to $6.7 billion from about $6.3 billion.

Oracle, too, is facing the same scramble to establish an enterprise cloud presence. Cloud software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) revenues were $690 million, up 66% in U.S. dollars. Total Cloud revenues, including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), were $859 million, up 49% in U.S. dollars. At the same time, Oracle’s hardware revenue fell by 7% to $1.3 billion, and its software license revenue fell by 2% to $7.6 billion.

“We added more than 1,600 new SaaS customers and more than 2,000 new PaaS customers in Q4” (which ended in June), said Oracle CEO, Mark Hurd. “In Fusion ERP alone, we added more than 800 new cloud customers. Today, Oracle has nearly 2,600 Fusion ERP customers in the Oracle Public Cloud — that’s ten-times more cloud ERP customers than Workday.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is the last of the big public enterprise platform vendors, along with IBM and Oracle. (Dell is private and acquired EMC). HPE recently reported its best quarter in years. Second quarter net revenue of $12.7 billion, up 1% from the prior-year period. “Today’s results represent our best performance since I joined in 2011,” said Meg Whitman, president and chief executive officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The businesses comprising HPE grew revenue over the prior-year period on an as-reported basis for the first time in five years.

IBM needs to put up some positive numbers. Seventeen consecutive losing quarters is boring. Wouldn’t it be exciting if a turnaround started with a new enterprise z14?

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

 

IBM Racks Up Blockchain Success

July 15, 2016

It hasn’t even been a year (Dec. 17, 2015) since IBM first publicly introduced its participation in the Linux Foundation’s newest collaborative project, Open Ledger Project, a broad-based Blockchain initiative.  And only this past April did IBM make serious noise publicly about Blockchain on the z, here. But since then IBM has been ramping up Blockchain initiatives fast.

LinuxONE rockhopper

Courtesy of IBM: LinuxONE Rockhopper

Just this week IBM made its security framework for blockchain public, first announced in April, by releasing the beta of IBM’s Blockchain Enterprise Test Network. This enables organizations to easily access a secure, partitioned blockchain network on the cloud to deploy, test, and run blockchain projects.

The IBM Blockchain Enterprise Test Network is a cloud platform built on a LinuxONE system.  Developers can now test four-node networks for transactions and validations with up to four parties.  The Network provides the next level of service for developers ready to go beyond the two-node blockchain service currently available in Bluemix for testing and simulating transactions between two parties. The Enterprise Test Network runs on LinuxONE, which IBM touts as the industry’s most secure Linux server due to the z mainframe’s Evaluation Assurance Level 5+ (EAL5+) security rating.

Also this week, Everledger, a fraud detection system for use with big data, announced it is building a business network using IBM Blockchain for their global certification system designed to track valuable items through the supply chain. Such items could be diamonds, fine art, and luxury goods.

Things continued to crank up around blockchain with IBM announcing a collaboration with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). With this arrangement IBM researchers will work with government, industries, and academia to develop applications and solutions based on enterprise blockchain, cyber-security, and cognitive computing technologies. The effort will draw on the expertise in the Singapore talent pool as well as that of the IBM Research network.  The Center also is expected to engage with small- and medium-sized enterprises to create new applications and grow new markets in finance and trade.

Facilitating this is the cloud. IBM expects new cloud services around blockchain will make these technologies more accessible and enable leaders from all industries to address what is already being recognized as profound and disruptive implications in finance, banking, IoT, healthcare, supply chains, manufacturing, technology, government, the legal system, and more. The hope, according to IBM, is that collaboration with the private sector and multiple government agencies within the same country will advance the use of Blockchain and cognitive technologies to improve business transactions across several different industries.

That exactly is the goal of blockchain. In a white paper from the IBM Institute of Business Value on blockchain, here, the role of blockchain is as a distributed, shared, secure ledger. These shared ledgers write business transactions as an unbreakable chain that forms a permanent record viewable by the parties in a transaction. In effect, blockchains shifts the focus from information held by an individual party to the transaction as a whole, a cross-entity history of an asset or transaction. This alone promises to reduce or even eliminate friction in the transaction while removing the need for most middlemen.

In that way, the researchers report, an enterprise, once constrained by complexity, can scale without unnecessary friction. It can integrate vertically or laterally across a network or ecosystem, or both. It can be small and transact with super efficiency. Or, it can be a coalition of individuals that come together briefly. Moreover, it can operate autonomously; as part of a self-governing, cognitive network. In effect, distributed ledgers can become the foundation of a secure distributed system of trust, a decentralized platform for massive collaboration. And through the Linux Foundation’s Open Ledger Project, blockchain remains open.

Even at this very early stage there is no shortage of takers ready to push the boundaries of this technology. For example, Crédit Mutuel Arkéa recently announced the completion of its first blockchain project to improve the bank’s ability to verify customer identity. The result is an operational permissioned blockchain network that provides a view of customer identity to enable compliance with Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements. The bank’s success demonstrated the disruptive capabilities of blockchain technology beyond common transaction-oriented use cases.

Similarly, Mizuho Financial Group and IBM announced in June a test of the potential of blockchain for use in settlements with virtual currency. Blockchain, by the way, first gained global attention with Bitcoin, an early virtual currency. By incorporating blockchain technology into settlements with virtual currency, Mizuho plans to explore how payments can be instantaneously swapped, potentially leading to new financial services based on this rapidly evolving technology. The pilot project uses the open source code IBM contributed to the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project.

Cloud-based blockchain running on large LinuxONE clusters may turn out to play a big role in ensuring the success of IoT by monitoring and tracking the activity between millions of things participating in a wide range of activities. Don’t let your z data center get left out; at least make sure it can handle Linux at scale.

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

 

Oracle Aims at Intel and IBM POWER

July 8, 2016

In late June Oracle announced the SPARC S7 processor, a new 20nm, 4.27 GHz, 8-core/64-thread SPARC processor targeted for scale-out Cloud workloads that usually go to Intel x86 servers. These are among the same workloads IBM is aiming for with POWER8, POWER9, and eventually POWER10, as reported by DancingDinosaur just a couple of weeks ago.

oracle roadmap trajectory

Oracle 5-year SPARC trajectory (does not include newly announced S series).

According to Oracle, the latest additions to the SPARC platform are built on the new 4.27 GHz, 8-core/64-thread SPARC S7 microprocessor with what Oracle calls Software-in-Silicon features such as Silicon Secured Memory and Data Analytics Accelerators, which enable organizations to run applications of all sizes on the SPARC platform at commodity price points. All existing commercial and custom applications will also run on the new SPARC enterprise cloud services and solutions unchanged while experiencing improvements in security, efficiency, and simplicity.

By comparison, the IBM POWER platform includes with the POWER8, which is delivered as a 12-core, 22nm processor. The POWER9, expected in 2017, will be delivered as 14nm processor with 24 cores and CAPI and NVlink accelerators, which ensure delivery of more performance with greater energy efficiency.  By 2018, the IBM roadmap shows POWER8/9 as a 10nm, maybe even a 7nm, processor, based on the existing micro-architecture. And an even beefier POWER10 is expected to arrive around 2020.

At the heart of the Oracle’s new scale-out, commodity-priced server, the S7. According to Oracle, the SPARC S7 delivers balanced compute performance with 8 cores per processor, integrated on-chip DDR4 memory interfaces, a PCIe controller, and coherency links. The cores in the SPARC S7 are optimized for running key enterprise software, including Java applications and database. The SPARC S7–based servers use very high levels of integration that increase bandwidth, reduce latencies, simplify board design, reduce the number of components, and increase reliability, according to Oracle. All this promises an increase in system efficiency with a corresponding improvement in the economics of deploying a scale-out infrastructure when compared to other vendor solutions.

Oracle’s SPARC S7 processor, based on Oracle enterprise class M7 servers, is optimized for horizontally scalable systems with all the key functionality included in the microprocessor chip. Its Software-in-Silicon capabilities, introduced with the SPARC M7 processor, are also available in the SPARC S7 processor to enable improved data protection, cryptographic acceleration, and analytics performance. These features include Security-in-Silicon, which provides Silicon Secured Memory and cryptographic acceleration, and Data Analytics Accelerator (DAX) units, which provide In-memory query acceleration and in-line decompression

SPARC S7 processor–based servers include single- and dual-processor systems that are complementary to the existing mid-range and high-end systems based on Oracle’s SPARC M7 processor. SPARC S7 processor–based servers include two rack-mountable models. The SPARC S7-2 server uses a compact 1U chassis, and the SPARC S7-2L server is implemented in a larger, more expandable 2U chassis. Uniformity of management interfaces and the adoption of standards also should help reduce administrative costs, while the chassis design provides density, efficiency, and economy as increasingly demanded by modern data centers. Published reports put the cost of the new Oracle systems at just above $11,000 with a single processor, 64GB of memory and two 600GB disk drives, and up to about $50,000 with two processors and a terabyte of memory.

DancingDinosaur doesn’t really have enough data to compare the new Oracle system with the new POWER8 and upcoming POWER9 systems. Neither Oracle nor IBM have provided sufficient details. Oracle doesn’t even offer a roadmap at this point, which might tell you something.

What we do know about the POWER machines is this: POWER9 promises a wealth of improvements in speeds and feeds. Although intended to serve the traditional Power Server market, it also is expanding its analytics capabilities and is being optimized for new deployment models like hyperscale, cloud, and technical computing through scale-out deployment. Available for either clustered or multiple formats, it will feature a shorter pipeline, improved branch execution, and low latency on the die cache as well as PCI gen 4.

According to IBM, you can expect a 3x bandwidth improvement with POWER9 over POWER8 and a 33% speed increase. POWER9 also will continue to speed hardware acceleration and support next gen NVlink, improved coherency, enhance CAPI, and introduce a 25 GPS high speed link. Although the 2-socket chip will remain, IBM suggests larger socket counts are coming. It will need that to compete with Intel.

At least IBM showed its POWER roadmap. There is no comparable information from Oracle. At best, DancingDinosaur was able to dig up the following sketchy details for 2017-2019: Next Gen Core, 2017 Software-in-Silicon V1, Scale Out fully integrated Software-in-Silicon V1 or 2; 2018- 2019 Core Enhancements, Increased Cache, Increased Bandwidth, Software-in-Silicon V3.

Both Oracle and IBM have made it clear neither really wants to compete in the low cost, scale out server market. However, as both companies’ large clients turn to scale out, hyperscale Intel-based systems they have no choice but to follow the money. With the OpenPOWER Foundation growing and driving innovation, mainly in the form of accelerators, IBM POWER may have an advantage driving a very competitive price/performance story against Intel. With the exception of Fujitsu as an ally of sorts, Oracle has no comparable ecosystem as far as DancingDinosaur can tell.

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

 

IBM Fires a Shot at Intel with its Latest POWER Roadmap

June 17, 2016

In case you worry that IBM will abandon hardware in the pursuit of its strategic initiatives focusing on cloud, mobile, analytics and more; well, stop worrying. With the announcement of its POWER Roadmap at the OpenPOWER Summit earlier this spring, it appears POWER will be around for years to come. But IBM is not abandoning the strategic initiatives either; the new Roadmap promises to support new types of workloads, such as real time analytics, Linux, hyperscale data centers, and more along with support for the current POWER workloads.

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Pictured above: POWER9 Architecture, courtesy of IBM

Specifically, IBM is offering a denser roadmap, not tied to technology and not even tied solely to IBM. It draws on innovations from a handful of the members of the Open POWER Foundation as well as support from Google. The new roadmap also signals IBM’s intention to make a serious run at Intel’s near monopoly on enterprise server processors by offering comparable or better price, performance, and features.

Google, for example, reports porting many of its popular web services to run on Power systems; its toolchain has been updated to output code for x86, ARM, or Power architectures with the flip of a configuration flag. Google, which strives to be everything to everybody, now has a highly viable alternative to Intel in terms of performance and price with POWER. At the OpenPOWER Summit early in the spring, Google made it clear it plans to build scale-out server solutions based on OpenPower.

Don’t even think, however, that Google is abandoning Intel. The majority of its systems are Intel-oriented. Still, POWER and the OpenPOWER community will provide a directly competitive processing alternative.  To underscore the situation Google and Rackspace announced they were working together on Power9 server blueprints for the Open Compute Project, designs that reportedly are compatible with the 48V Open Compute racks Google and Facebook, another hyperscale data center, already are working on.

Google represents another proof point that OpenPOWER is ready for hyperscale data centers. DancingDinosaur, however, really is interested most in what is coming from OpenPOWER that is new and sexy for enterprise data centers, since most DancingDinosaur readers are focused on the enterprise data center. Of course, they still need ever better performance and scalability too. In that regard OpenPOWER has much for them in the works.

For starters, POWER8 is currently delivered as a 12-core, 22nm processor. POWER9, expected in 2017, will be delivered as 14nm processor with 24 cores and CAPI and NVlink accelerators. That is sure to deliver more performance with greater energy efficiency.  By 2018, the IBM roadmap shows POWER8/9 as a 10nm, maybe even 7nm, processor, based on the existing micro-architecture.

The real POWER future, arriving around 2020, will feature a new micro-architecture, sport new features and functions, and bring new technology. Expect much, if not almost all, of the new functions to come from various OpenPOWER Foundation partners,

POWER9, only a year or so out, promises a wealth of improvements in speeds and feeds. Although intended to serve the traditional Power Server market, it also is expanding its analytics capabilities and bringing new deployment models for hyperscale, cloud, and technical computing through scale out deployment. This will include deployment in both clustered or multiple formats. It will feature a shorter pipeline, improved branch execution, and low latency on the die cache as well as PCI gen 4.

Expect a 3x bandwidth improvement with POWER9 over POWER8 and a 33% speed increase. POWER9 also will continue to speed hardware acceleration and support next gen NVlink, improved coherency, enhance CAPI, and introduce a 25 GPS high speed link. Although the 2-socket chip will remain, IBM suggests larger socket counts are coming. It will need that to compete with Intel.

As a data center manager, will a POWER9 machine change your data center dynamics?  Maybe, you decide: a dual-socket Power9 server with 32 DDR4 memory slots, two NVlink slots, three PCIe gen-4 x16 slots, and a total 44 core count. That’s a lot of computing power in one rack.

Now IBM just has to crank out similar advances for the next z System (a z14 maybe?) through the Open Mainframe Project.

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

 

IBM to Acquire EZSource to Bolster IBM z System for Digital Transformation

June 9, 2016

Over the past two years you have been reading in DancingDinosaur the new tricks that your z System can do—real time analytics, IoT, Blockchain, and more. This is part of the digital transformation that is blowing through enterprises everywhere. EZSource facilitates and simplifies how you can play in this new areas. See the IBM announcement here.

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EZSource Dashboard, Credit: EZSource

EZSource expedites digital transformations by unlocking core business logic and apps. Specifically it will pinpoint your valuable mainframe code assets in preparation for leveraging them through a hybrid cloud strategy. In the process it will enable the understanding business-critical assets in preparation of deployment of a z-centered hybrid cloud. This also enables enterprise DevOps, which is necessary to keep up with the pace of changes overtaking existing business processes.

Specifically, this can entail the need to:

  • Identify API candidates to play in the API economy
  • Embrace micro services to deliver versatile apps fast
  • Identify code quality concerns, including dead code, to improve reliability and maintainability
  • Mitigate risk of change through understanding code, data and schedule interdependencies
  • Aid in the sizing of a change effort
  • Automate documentation to improve understanding
  • Reduce learning curve as new people are on-boarded
  • Add application understanding to DevOps lifecycle information to identify opportunities for work optimization

Managers a z data centers often shy away from modifying aging business-critical applications for fear of breaking something—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—often is the mantra. They also are rationing the use of their few remaining experienced z veterans with the domain expertise and deep knowledge of software that turns out to be quite esoteric code.  This is further aggravated by poorly documented mainframe code. The way to mitigate this risk of change is through understanding code, data, and interdependencies. EZSource can handle this visually and with ease; you no longer need to be an experienced z code expert.

So what do you have to do to get on the digitization transformation bandwagon? Start by identifying your mainframe assets that are most often accessed. Most of them will be what the mobile apps are calling, usually a CICS routine or two or three. Then expose these business critical services through APIs and micro-services. This may require re-writing parts of them as platform agnostic language and Java components to work within the context of a hybrid cloud. As noted just above, EZSource can help with much of this too.

In short, EZSource performs app discovery, which facilitates code quality improvement. It helps clean up code. It also applies analytics to DevOps, in effect enabling Cognitive DevOps, which makes sense in the dynamic hybrid cloud. The result: you focus only on the relevant code and, of that, what is particularly problematic.

The goal is to increase competitiveness and business innovation through digital forms of engagement; the engagement currently being fueled by mobile, social, analytic, and cognitive computing in a hybrid cloud environment. The expectation is that you will be able to tap the accumulated software assets for insights while modernizing business critical applications already resident on the z. IBM contends that this is the fastest and most cost effective way to drive new value and agility and DancingDinosaur agrees.

Is it worth it?  Most DancingDinosaur readers probably already believe that the mainframe and its data and software assets sit smack at the center of a digital enterprise. (Just a glimpse of the growth of monthly software peak workload charges should confirm that). It makes no sense not to leverage this complex resource to the max. EZSource, with its smart code analytics and visual capabilities, can save thousands of hours of work, avoid mistakes, and speed the delivery of the kind of slick new hybrid cloud apps that customers are demanding.  EZSource is primarily a Linux, Windows, and Java tool with only a few pieces residing on the z to handle necessary z-specific connectivity.

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

 

Medical Mutual Gains Fast Access to z/OS Log Data via Splunk and Ironstream

June 3, 2016

Running Syncsort’s Ironstream and leveraging Splunk Enterprise, Medical Mutual of Ohio has now implemented mainframe security in real time through the Splunk® Enterprise platform. One goal is to help protect customer information stored in DB2 from unauthorized access. Syncsorts’s Ironstream, a utility, collects and forwards z/OS log data, including security data, to Splunk Enterprise and Splunk Enterprise Security.

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z/OS security data, courtesy of Syncsort

“We’ve always had visibility. Now we can get it faster, in real time directly from the mainframe,” said the insurer’s enterprise security supervisor. Previously, the company would do a conventional data transfer, which could take several hours. The new approach, sometimes referred to as a big iron-to-big data strategy, now delivers security log data in near real time. This enables the security team to correlate all the security data from across the enterprise to effectively and quickly gain visibility into user-authentication data and access attempts tracked on the mainframe. And they can do it without needing specialized expertise or different monitoring systems for z/OS.

Real-time analytics, including real-time predictive analytics, are increasingly attractive as solutions for the growng security challenges organizations are facing. These challenges are due, in large part, to the explosion of transaction activity driven by mobile computing, and soon, IoT, and Blockchain, most of which eventually finds its way to the mainframe. All of these present immediate security concerns and require fast, nearly instant security decisions. Even cloud usage, which one would expect to be mainstream in enterprises by now, often is curtailed due to security fears.

With the Ironstream and Splunk combination, Medical Mutual Medical Mutual can see previously slow-to-access mainframe data alongside other security information it was already analyzing in Splunk Enterprise. Splunk Enterprise enables a consolidated enterprise-wide view of machine data collected across the business, which makes it possible to correlate events that might not raise suspicion alone but could be indicative of a threat when seen together.

The deployment proved to be straightforward. Medical Mutual’s in-house IT team set it up in a week with Syncsort answering deployment questions to assist. Although there are numerous tools to capture log data from the mainframe, the insurer chose to go with the Splunk-Ironstream combination because it already was using Splunk in house for centralized logging. Adding mainframe security logs was an easy step. “This was affordable and it saved us from having to learn another product,” the security supervisor added. Medical Mutual runs a z13, model 409 with Ironstream.

According to the announcement, by having Ironstream leverage z/OS log data via Splunk Enterprise, Medical Mutual has enables the organization to:

  • Track security events and data from multiple platforms including IBM z/OS mainframes, Windows and distributed servers and correlate the information in Splunk Enterprise for better security.
  • Diagnose and respond to high severity security issues more quickly since data from across the entire enterprise is being monitored in real time.
  • Provide monthly and daily reporting with an up-to-the-minute account of unusual user activity.
  • Detect security anomalies and analyze their trends – the cornerstone of Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) strategies.

Real time monitoring with analytics has proven crucial for security. You can actually detect fraud while it is taking place and before serious damage is done. It is much harder to recoup loses hours, days, or, what is often the case, months later.

The Splunk platform can handle massive amounts of data from different formats and indexes and decipher and correlate security events through analytics. Ironstream brings the ability to stream mainframe security data for even greater insights, and Ironstream’s low overhead keeps mainframe processing costs low.

To try the big iron-to-big data strategy organizations can download a free Ironstream Starter Edition and begin streaming z/OS Syslog data into Splunk solutions. Unlike typical technology trials, the Starter Edition is not time-limited and may be used in production at no charge. This includes access to the Ironstream applications available for download on Splunkbase.

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

 


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