Posts Tagged ‘Secure Service Container’

Secure Containers for the Z

October 11, 2018

What’s all this talk about secure containers? Mainframe data center managers have long used secure containers, only they call them logical partitions (LPARs). Secure service containers must be some x86 thing.

Courtesy: Mainframe Watch Belgium

Writing the first week in Oct., Ross Mauri, General Manager IBM Z, observes: Today’s executives in a digitally empowered world want IT to innovate and deliver outstanding user experiences. But, as you know, this same landscape increases exposure and scrutiny around the protection of valuable and sensitive data. IBM’s answer: new capabilities for the IBM z14 and LinuxONE platforms that handle digital transformation while responding to immediate market needs and delivering effective solutions.

The containers provide a secure service container that hosts container-based applications for hybrid and private cloud workloads on IBM LinuxONE and Z servers as an IBM Cloud Private software solution.  This secure computing environment for microservices-based applications can be deployed without requiring code changes to exploit inherent security capabilities. In the process, it provides:

  • Tamper protection during installation time
  • Restricted administrator access to help prevent the misuse of privileged user credentials
  • Automatic encryption of data both in flight and at rest

This differs from an LPAR. According to IBM, the LPAR or logical partition are, in practice, equivalent to separate mainframes. This is not trivial power. Each LPAR runs its own operating system. This can be any mainframe operating system; there is no need to run z/OS, for example, in each LPAR. The installation planners  also may elect to share I/O devices across several LPARs, but this is a local decision.

The system administrator can assign one or more system processors for the exclusive use of an LPAR. Alternately, the administrator can allow all processors to be used on some or all LPARs. Here, the system control functions (often known as microcode or firmware) provide a dispatcher to share the processors among the selected LPARs. The administrator can specify a maximum number of concurrent processors executing in each LPAR. The administrator can also provide weightings for different LPARs; for example, specifying that LPAR1 should receive twice as much processor time as LPAR2. If the code in one LPAR crashes, it has no effect on the other LPARs. Not sure this is the case with the new microservices containers.

Mauri tries to make the case for the new containers. These containers allow applications and data to inherit a layer of security with Secure Service Containers that, in turn, inherit the embedded capabilities at the core of IBM Z and LinuxONE to help hyper protect your data, guard against internal and external threats, and simplify your data compliance initiatives. DancingDinosaur does not know what “hyper protect” means in this context. Sounds like marketing-speak.

Also Mauri explains that IBM Secure Service Containers help protect the privacy of sensitive company data and customer data from administrators with elevated credentials. At the same time they allow development teams to use cutting-edge container-based technologies to deploy new or existing containerized applications.

In fact, IBM continues the explanation by saying it selected this unique and class-leading data privacy assurance technology to allow applications and data to inherit yet another layer of security through Secure Service Containers. “We’ve embedded capabilities at the core of IBM Z and LinuxONE that help hyper protect your data, guard against internal and external threats, and simplify your data compliance initiatives.” IBM does like the hyper protect phrase; wish DancingDinosaur knew what it meant. A Google search comes up with hyper Protect Crypto Services, which IBM concedes is still an experimental phase, so, in fact, it doesn’t mean anything yet. Maybe in the future.

IBM Secure Service Containers help protect the privacy of sensitive company and customer data from administrators with elevated credentials—a serious risk—while, at the same time, allowing development teams to use cutting-edge container-based technologies to deploy new or existing containerized applications. OK, DancingDinosaur can accept this but it seems only marginally different from what you can do with good ole LPARs. Maybe the difference only becomes apparent when you attempt to build the latest generation microservices-based apps.

If your choice comes down to secure service containers or LPARs, guess you need to look at what kind of apps you want to deploy. All DancingDinosaur can add is LPARs are powerful, known, and proven technology.

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

Meet the new IBM LinuxONE Emperor II

September 15, 2017

Early this week IBM introduced the newest generation of the LinuxONE, the IBM LinuxONE Emperor II, built on the same technology as the IBM z14, which DancingDinosaur covered on July 19. The key feature of the new LinuxONE Emperor II, is IBM Secure Service Container, presented as an exclusive LinuxONE technology representing a significant leap forward in data privacy and security capabilities. With the z14 the key capability was pervasive encryption. This time the Emperor II promises very high levels of security and data privacy assurance while rapidly addressing unpredictable data and transaction growth. Didn’t we just hear a story like this a few weeks ago?

IBM LinuxONE Emperor (not II)

Through the IBM Secure Service Container, for the first time data can be protected against internal threats at the system level from users with elevated credentials or hackers who obtain a user’s credentials, as well as external threats. Software developers will benefit by not having to create proprietary dependencies in their code to take advantage of these security capabilities. An application only needs to be put into a Docker container to be ready for Secure Service Container deployment. The application can be managed using the Docker and Kubernetes tools that are included to make Secure Service Container environments easy to deploy and use.

The Emperor II and the LinuxONE are being positioned as the premier Linux system for highly secured data serving. To that end, it promises:

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

With the z14 you got this too, maybe worded slightly differently.

In terms of performance and scalability, IBM promises:

  • Industry-leading performance of Java workloads, up to 50% faster than Intel
  • Vertical scale to 170 cores, equivalent to hundreds of x86 cores
  • Simplification to make the most of your Linux skill base and speed time to value
  • SIMD to accelerate analytics workloads & decimal compute (critical to financial applications)
  • Pause-less garbage collection to enable vertical scaling while maintaining predictable performance

Like the z14, the Emperor II also lays a foundation for data serving and next gen apps, specifically:

  • Adds performance and security to new open source DBaaS deployments
  • Develops new blockchain applications based on the proven IBM Blockchain Platform—in terms of security, blockchain may prove more valuable than even secure containers or pervasive encryption
  • Support for data-in-memory applications and new workloads using 32 TB of memory—that’s enough to run production databases entirely in memory (of course, you’ll have to figure out if the increased performance, which should be significant, is worth the extra memory cost)
  • A build-your-cloud approach for providers wanting a secure, scalable, open source platform

If you haven’t figured it out yet, IBM sees itself in a titanic struggle with Intel’s x86 platform.  With the LinuxONE Emperor II IBM senses it can gain the upper hand with certain workloads. Specifically:

  • EAL 5+ isolation, best in class crypto key protection, and Secure Service Containers
  • 640 Power cores in its I/O channels (that aren’t included in the core count) giving the platform the best I/O capacity and performance in the industry
  • Its shared memory, vertical scale architecture delivers a measurably better architecture for stateful workloads like databases and systems of record
  • The LinuxONE/z14 hardware designed to still give good response time at up to 100% utilization, which simplifies the solution and reduces the extra costs many data centers assume are necessary because they’re used to 50% utilization
  • The Emperor II can be ordered designed and tested for earthquake resistance
  • The z-based LinuxONE infrastructure has survived fire and flood scenarios where all other server infrastructures have failed

That doesn’t mean, however, the Emperor II is a Linux no brainer, even for shops facing pressure around security compliance, never-fail mission critical performance, high capacity, and high performance. Change is hard and there remains a cultural mindset based on the lingering myth of the cheap PC of decades ago.

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 and here.


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