Posts Tagged ‘Power Systems’

IBM Expands and Enhances its Cloud Offerings

June 15, 2018

IBM announced 18 new availability zones in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific to bolster its IBM Cloud business and try to keep pace with AWS, the public cloud leader, and Microsoft. The new availability zones are located in Europe (Germany and UK), Asia-Pacific (Tokyo and Sydney), and North America (Washington, DC and Dallas).

IBM cloud availability zone, Dallas

In addition, organizations will be able to deploy multi-zone Kubernetes clusters across the availability zones via the IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service. This will simplify how they deploy and manage containerized applications and add further consistency to their cloud experience. Furthermore, deploying multi-zone clusters will have minimal impact on performance, about 2 ms latency between availability zones.

An availability zone, according to IBM, is an isolated instance of a cloud inside a data center region. Each zone brings independent power, cooling, and networking to strengthen fault tolerance. While IBM Cloud already operates in nearly 60 locations, the new zones add even more capacity and capability in these key centers. This global cloud footprint becomes especially critical as clients look to gain greater control of their data in the face of tightening data regulations, such as the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). See DancingDinosaur June 1, IBM preps z world for GDPR.

In its Q1 earnings IBM reported cloud revenue of $17.7bn over the past year, up 22 percent over the previous year, but that includes two quarters of outstanding Z revenue that is unlikely to be sustained,  at least until the next Z comes out, which is at least a few quarters away.  AWS meanwhile reported quarterly revenues up 49 percent to $5.4 billion, while Microsoft recently reported 93 percent growth for Azure revenues.

That leaves IBM trying to catch up the old fashioned way by adding new cloud capabilities, enhancing existing cloud capabilities, and attracting more clients to its cloud capabilities however they may be delivered. For example, IBM announced it is the first cloud provider to let developers run managed Kubernetes containers directly on bare metal servers with direct access to GPUs to improve the performance of machine-learning applications, which is critical to any AI effort.  Along the same lines, IBM will extend its IBM Cloud Private and IBM Cloud Private for Data and middleware to Red Hat’s OpenShift Container Platform and Certified Containers. Red Hat already is a leading provider of enterprise Linux to Z shops.

IBM has also expanded its cloud offerings to support the widest range of platforms. Not just Z, LinuxONE, and Power9 for Watson, but also x86 and a variety of non-IBM architectures and platforms. Similarly, notes IBM, users have gotten accustomed to accessing corporate databases wherever they reside, but proximity to cloud data centers still remains important. Distance to data centers can have an impact on network performance, resulting in slow uploads or downloads.

Contrary to simplifying things, the propagation of more and different types of clouds and cloud strategies complicate an organization’s cloud approach. Already, today companies are managing complex, hybrid public-private cloud environments. At the same time, eighty percent of the world’s data is sitting on private servers. It just is not practical or even permissible in some cases to move all the data to the public cloud. Other organizations are run very traditional workloads that they’re looking to modernize over time as they acquire new cloud-native skills. The new IBM cloud centers can host data in multiple formats and databases including DB2, SQLBase, PostreSQL, or NoSQL, all exposed as cloud services, if desired.

The IBM cloud centers, the company continues, also promise common logging and services between the on-prem environment and IBM’s public cloud environment. In fact, IBM will make all its cloud services, including the Watson AI service, consistent across all its availability zones, and offer multi-cluster support, in effect enabling the ability to run workloads and do backups across availability zones.

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.

Is Your Enterprise Ready for AI?

May 11, 2018

According to IBM’s gospel of AI “we are in the midst of a global transformation and it is touching every aspect of our world, our lives, and our businesses.”  IBM has been preaching its gospel of AI of the past year or longer, but most of its clients haven’t jumped fully aboard. “For most of our clients, AI will be a journey. This is demonstrated by the fact that most organizations are still in the early phases of AI adoption.”

AC922 with NIVIDIA Tesla V100 and Enhanced NVLink GPUs

The company’s latest announcements earlier this week focus POWER9 squarely on AI. Said Tim Burke, Engineering Vice President, Cloud and Operating System Infrastructure, at Red Hat. “POWER9-based servers, running Red Hat’s leading open technologies offer a more stable and performance optimized foundation for machine learning and AI frameworks, which is required for production deployments… including PowerAI, IBM’s software platform for deep learning with IBM Power Systems that includes popular frameworks like Tensorflow and Caffe, as the first commercially supported AI software offering for [the Red Hat] platform.”

IBM insists this is not just about POWER9 and they may have a point; GPUs and other assist processors are taking on more importance as companies try to emulate the hyperscalers in their efforts to drive server efficiency while boosting power in the wake of declines in Moore’s Law. ”GPUs are at the foundation of major advances in AI and deep learning around the world,” said Paresh Kharya, group product marketing manager of Accelerated Computing at NVIDIA. [Through] “the tight integration of IBM POWER9 processors and NVIDIA V100 GPUs made possible by NVIDIA NVLink, enterprises can experience incredible increases in performance for compute- intensive workloads.”

To create an AI-optimized infrastructure, IBM announced the latest additions to its POWER9 lineup, the IBM Power Systems LC922 and LC921. Characterized by IBM as balanced servers offering both compute capabilities and up to 120 terabytes of data storage and NVMe for rapid access to vast amounts of data. IBM included HDD in the announcement but any serious AI workload will choke without ample SSD.

Specifically, these new servers bring an updated version of the AC922 server, which now features recently announced 32GB NVIDIA V100 GPUs and larger system memory, which enables bigger deep learning models to improve the accuracy of AI workloads.

IBM has characterized the new models as data-intensive machines and AI-intensive systems, LC922 and LC921 Servers with POWER9 processors. The AC922, arrived last fall. It was designed for the what IBM calls the post-CPU era. The AC922 was 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 was designed to drive demonstrable performance improvements across popular AI frameworks such as TensorFlow and Caffe.

In the post CPU era, where Moore’s Law no longer rules, you need to pay as much attention to the GPU and other assist processors as the CPU itself, maybe even more so. For example, the coherence and high-speed of the NVLink enables hash tables—critical for fast analytics—on GPUs. As IBM noted at the introduction of the new machines this week: Hash tables are fundamental data structure for analytics over large datasets. For this you need large memory: small GPU memory limits hash table size and analytic performance. The CPU-GPU NVLink2 solves 2 key problems: large memory and high-speed enables storing the full hash table in CPU memory and transferring pieces to GPU for fast operations; coherence enables new inserts in CPU memory to get updated in GPU memory. Otherwise, modifications on data in CPU memory do not get updated in GPU memory.

IBM has started referring to the LC922 and LC921 as big data crushers. The LC921 brings 2 POWER9 sockets in a 1U form factor; for I/O it comes with both PCIe 4.0 and CAPI 2.0.; and offers up to 40 cores (160 threads) and 2TB RAM, which is ideal for environments requiring dense computing.

The LC922 is considerably bigger. It offers balanced compute capabilities delivered with the P9 processor and up to 120TB of storage capacity, again advanced I/O through PCIe 4.0/CAPI 2.0, and up to 44 cores (176 threads) and 2TB RAM. The list price, notes IBM is ~30% less.

If your organization is not thinking about AI your organization is probably in the minority, according to IDC.

  • 31 percent of organizations are in [AI] discovery/evaluation
  • 22 percent of organizations plan to implement AI in next 1-2 years
  • 22 percent of organizations are running AI trials
  • 4 percent of organizations have already deployed AI

Underpinning both servers is the IBM POWER9 CPU. The POWER9 enjoys a nearly 5.6x improved CPU to GPU bandwidth vs x86, which can improve deep learning training times by nearly 4x. Even today companies are struggling to cobble together the different pieces and make them work. IBM learned that lesson and now offers a unified AI infrastructure in PowerAI and Power9 that you can use today.

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

IBM Grows Quantum Ecosystem

April 27, 2018

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

cryostat with prototype of quantum processor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBM 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.

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 Halts Losing Quarterly Slide

January 25, 2018

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

Watson and Weather Co. track flu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meltdown and Spectre Attacks Require IBM Mitigation

January 12, 2018

The chip security threats dubbed Meltdown and Spectre revealed last month apparently will require IBM threat mitigation in the form of code and patching. IBM has been reticent to make a major public announcement, but word finally is starting to percolate publicly.

Courtesy: Preparis Inc.

On January 4, one day after researchers disclosed the Meltdown and Spectre attack methods against Intel, AMD and ARM processors the Internet has been buzzing.  Wrote Eduard Kovacs on Wed.; Jan. 10, IBM informed customers that it had started analyzing impact on its own products. The day before IBM revealed its POWER processors are affected.

A published report from Virendra Soni, January 11, on the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2018 in Las Vegas where Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang revealed how the technology leaders are scrambling to find patches to the Spectre and Meltdown attacks. These attacks enable hackers to steal private information off users’ CPUs running processors from Intel, AMD, and ARM.

For DancingDinosaur readers, that puts the latest POWER chips and systems at risk. At this point, it is not clear how far beyond POWER systems the problem reaches. “We believe our GPU hardware is immune. As for our driver software, we are providing updates to help mitigate the CPU security issue,” Nvidia wrote in their security bulletin.

Nvidia also reports releasing updates for its software drivers that interact with vulnerable CPUs and operating systems. The vulnerabilities take place in three variants: Variant 1, Variant 2, and Variant 3. Nvidia has released driver updates for Variant 1 and 2. The company notes none of its software is vulnerable to Variant 3. Nvidia reported providing security updates for these products: GeForce, Quadro, NVS Driver Software, Tesla Driver Software, and GRID Driver Software.

IBM has made no public comments on which of their systems are affected. But Red Hat last week reported IBM’s System Z, and POWER platforms are impacted by Spectre and Meltdown. IBM may not be saying much but Red Hat is, according to Soni: “Red Hat last week reported that IBM’s System Z, and POWER platforms are exploited by Spectre and Meltdown.”

So what is a data center manager with a major investment in these systems to do?  Meltdown and Spectre “obviously are a very big problem, “ reports Timothy Prickett Morgan, a leading analyst at The Last Platform, an authoritative website following the server industry. “Chip suppliers and operating systems and hypervisor makers have known about these exploits since last June, and have been working behind the scenes to provide corrective countermeasures to block them… but rumors about the speculative execution threats forced the hands of the industry, and last week Google put out a notice about the bugs and then followed up with details about how it has fixed them in its own code. Read it here.

Chipmakers AMD and AMR put out a statement saying only Variant 1 of the speculative execution exploits (one of the Spectre variety known as bounds check bypass), and by Variant 2 (also a Spectre exploit known as branch target injection) affected them. AMD, reports Morgan, also emphasized that it has absolutely no vulnerability to Variant 3, a speculative execution exploit called rogue data cache load and known colloquially as Meltdown.  This is due, he noted, to architectural differences between Intel’s X86 processors and AMD’s clones.

As for IBM, Morgan noted: its Power chips are affected, at least back to the Power7 from 2010 and continuing forward to the brand new Power9. In its statement, IBM said that it would have patches out for firmware on Power machines using Power7+, Power8, Power8+, and Power9 chips on January 9, which passed, along with Linux patches for those machines; patches for the company’s own AIX Unix and proprietary IBM i operating systems will not be available until February 12. The System z mainframe processors also have speculative execution, so they should, in theory, be susceptible to Spectre but maybe not Meltdown.

That still leaves a question about the vulnerability of the IBM LinuxONE and the processors spread throughout the z systems. Ask your IBM rep when you can expect mitigation for those too.

Just patching these costly systems should not be sufficiently satisfying. There is a performance price that data centers will pay. Google noted a negligible impact on performance after it deployed one fix on Google’s millions of Linux systems, said Morgan. There has been speculation, Googled continued, that the deployment of KPTI (a mitigation fix) causes significant performance slowdowns. As far as is known, there is no fix for Spectre Variant 1 attacks, which have to be fixed on a binary-by-binary basis, according to Google.

Red Hat went further and actually ran benchmarks. The company tested its Enterprise Linux 7 release on servers using Intel’s “Haswell” Xeon E5 v3, “Broadwell” Xeon E5 v4, and “Skylake,” the upcoming Xeon SP processors, and showed impacts that ranged from 1-19 percent. You can demand these impacts be reflected in reduced system prices.

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 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.


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