Posts Tagged ‘technology’

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 has laid with the IBM Q experience, which the company unveiled last March. It involves the company’s effort make available a commercial universal quantum computer for business and science applications. The Q systems started at 5 cubits and increased with each successive rev until today with a prototype 50 cubit system and services 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 ran 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.

A key reason an organization might want to join the Q Network is QISKit, an open source quantum computing SDK. Most DancingDinosaur readers, if they want to participate at all, 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 announced today include  JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab, Oxford University, and University of Melbourne.

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

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

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

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

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

IBM’s POWER9 Races to AI

December 7, 2017

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

IBM engineer tests the POWER9

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

More than a CPU under the AC922 cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under the Covers of Z Container Pricing

December 1, 2017

Along with the announcement of the z14, or now just Z, last July IBM also introduced container pricing as an upcoming capability of the machine intended to make it both flexible and price competitive. This is expected to happen by the end of this year.

A peak into the IBM z14

Container pricing implied overall cost savings and also simplified deployment. At the announcement IBM suggested competitive economics too, especially when benchmarked against public clouds and on-premises x86 environments.

By now you should realize that IBM has difficulty talking about price. They have lots of excuses relating to their global footprint and such. Funny, other systems vendors that sell globally don’t seem to have that problem. After two decades of covering IBM and the mainframe as a reporter, analyst, and blogger I’ve finally realized why the reticence: that the company’s pricing is almost always high, over-priced compared to the competition.

If you haven’t realized it yet, the only way IBM will talk price is around a 3-year TCO cost analysis. (Full disclosure: as an analyst, I have developed such TCO analyses and am quite familiar with how to manipulate them.) And even then you will have to swallow a number of assumptions and caveats to get the numbers to work.

For example, there is no doubt that IBM is targeting the x86 (Intel) platform with its LinuxONE lineup and especially its newest machine, the Emperor II. For example, IBM reports it can scale a single MongoDB database to 17TB on the Emperor II while running it at scale with less than 1ms response time. That will save up to 37% compared to x86 on a 3-year TCO analysis. The TCO analysis gets even better when you look at a priced-per-core data serving infrastructures. IBM reports it can consolidate thousands of x86 cores on a single LinuxONE server and reduce costs by up to 40%.

So, let’s see what the Z’s container pricing can do for you. IBM’s container pricing is being introduced to allow new workloads to be added onto z/OS in a way that doesn’t impact an organization’s rolling four-hour average while supporting deployment options that makes the most sense for an organization’s architecture while facilitating competitive pricing at an attractive price point relative to that workload.

For example, one of the initial use cases for container pricing revolves around payments workloads, particularly instant payments. That workload will be charged not to any capacity marker but to the number of payments processed. The payment workload pricing grid promises to be highly competitive with the price–per-payment starting at $0.0021 and dropping to $0.001 with volume. “That’s a very predictable, very aggressive price,” says Ray Jones, vice president, IBM Z Software and Hybrid Cloud. You can do the math and decide how competitive this is for your organization.

Container pricing applies to various deployment options—including co-located workloads in an existing LPAR—that present line-of-sight pricing to a solution. The new pricing promises simplified software pricing for qualified solutions. It even offers the possibility, IBM adds, of different pricing metrics within the same LPAR.

Container pricing, however, requires the use of IBM’s software for payments, Financial Transaction Manager (FTM). FTM counts the number of payments processed, which drives the billing from IBM.

To understand container pricing you must realize IBM is not talking about Docker containers. A container to IBM simply is an address space, or group of address spaces, in support of a particular workload. An organization can have multiple containers in an LPAR, have as many containers as it wants, and change the size of containers as needed. This is where the flexibility comes in.

The fundamental advantage of IBM’s container pricing comes from the co-location of workloads to get improved performance and lower latency. The new pricing eliminates what goes on in containers from consideration in the MLC calculations.

To get container pricing, however, you have to qualify. The company is setting up pricing agents around the world. Present your container plans and an agent will determine if you qualify and at what price. IBM isn’t saying anything about how you should present your container plans to qualify for the best deal. Just be prepared to negotiate as hard as you would with any IBM deal.

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

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

November 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBM Introduces Cloud Private to Hybrid Clouds

November 10, 2017

When you have enough technologies lying around your basement, sometimes you can cobble a few pieces together, mix it with some sexy new stuff and, bingo, you have something that meets a serious need of a number of disparate customers. That’s essentially what IBM did with Cloud Private, which it announced Nov. 1.

IBM staff test Cloud Private automation software

IBM intended Cloud Private to enable companies to create on-premises cloud capabilities similar to public clouds to accelerate app dev. Don’t think it as just old stuff; the new platform is built on the open source Kubernetes-based container architecture and supports both Docker containers and Cloud Foundry. This facilitates integration and portability of workloads, enabling them to evolve to almost any cloud environment, including—especially—the public IBM Cloud.

Also IBM announced container-optimized versions of core enterprise software, including IBM WebSphere Liberty, DB2 and MQ – widely used to run and manage the world’s most business-critical applications and data. This makes it easier to share data and evolve applications as needed across the IBM Cloud, private, public clouds, and other cloud environments with a consistent developer, administrator, and user experience.

Cloud Private amounts to a new software platform, which relies on open source container technology to unlock billions of dollars in core data and applications incorporating legacy software like WebSphere and Db2. The purpose is to extend cloud-native tools across public and private clouds. For z data centers that have tons of valuable, reliable working systems years away from being retired, if ever, Cloud Private may be just what they need.

Almost all enterprise systems vendors are trying to do the same hybrid cloud computing enablement. HPE, Microsoft, Cisco, which is partnering with Google on this, and more. This is a clear indication that the cloud and especially the hybrid cloud is crossing the proverbial chasm. In years past IT managers and C-level executives didn’t want anything to do with the cloud; the IT folks saw it as a threat to their on premises data center and the C-suite was scared witless about security.

Those issues haven’t gone away although the advent of hybrid clouds have mitigated some of the fears among both groups. Similarly, the natural evolution of the cloud and advances in hybrid cloud computing make this more practical.

The private cloud too is growing. According to IBM, while public cloud adoption continues to grow at a rapid pace, organizations, especially in regulated industries of finance and health care, are continuing to leverage private clouds as part of their journey to public cloud environments to quickly launch and update applications. This also is what is driving hybrid clouds. IBM estimates companies will spend more than $50 billion globally starting in 2017 to create and evolve private clouds with growth rates of 15 to 20 percent a year through 2020, according to IBM market projections.

The problem facing IBM and the other enterprise systems vendors scrambling for hybrid clouds is how to transition legacy systems into cloud native systems. The hybrid cloud in effect acts as facilitating middleware. “Innovation and adoption of public cloud services has been constrained by the challenge of transitioning complex enterprise systems and applications into a true cloud-native environment,” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President for IBM Hybrid Cloud and Director of IBM Research. IBM’s response is Cloud Private, which brings rapid application development and modernization to existing IT infrastructure while combining it with the service of a public cloud platform.

Hertz adopted this approach. “Private cloud is a must for many enterprises such as ours working to reduce or eliminate their dependence on internal data centers,” said Tyler Best, Hertz Chief Information Officer.  A strategy consisting of public, private and hybrid cloud is essential for large enterprises to effectively make the transition from legacy systems to cloud.

IBM is serious about cloud as a strategic initiative. Although not as large as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Service (AWS) in the public cloud, a recent report by Synergy Research found that IBM is a major provider of private cloud services, making the company the third-largest overall cloud provider.

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 3Q17 Results Break Consecutive Quarters Losing Streak

November 2, 2017

DancingDinosaur generally does not follow the daily gyrations of IBM’s stock, assuming that readers like you are not really active investors in the company’s stock. That is not to say, however, that you don’t have an important, even critical interest in the company’s fortunes.  As users of Z or Power systems, you want to know that IBM has the means to continue to invest in and advance your preferred platform.  And a 20+ consecutive quarters losing streak doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

What is interesting about IBM’s latest 3Q17 financials, which ends the string of consecutive revenue losses, is the performance of the Z and storage, two things most of us are concerned with.

Blockchain simplifies near real-time clearing and settlement

Here is what Martin Schroeter, IBM Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer said to the investment analysts he briefs: In Systems, we had strong growth driven by the third consecutive quarter of growth in storage, and a solid launch of our new z14 mainframe, now just called Z, which was available for the last two weeks of the quarter.

DancingDinosaur has followed the mainframe for several decades at least, and the introduction of a new mainframe always boosts revenue for the next quarter or two. The advantages were apparent on Day 1 when the machine was introduced. As DancingDinosaur wrote: You get this encryption automatically, virtually for free. IBM insists it will deliver the z14 at the same price/performance of the z13 or less. The encryption is built into the cost of silicon out of the box.

A few months later IBM introduced a new LinuxOne mainframe, the Emperor II. The new LinuxOne doesn’t yet offer pervasive encryption but provides Secure Service Containers. As it was described here at that time: Through the Secure Service Container data can be protected against internal threats at the system level even 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 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. Again, it will likely take a few quarters for LinuxONE shops and other Linux shops to seek out the Emperor II and Secure Service Containers.

Similarly, in recent weeks, IBM has been bolstering its storage offerings. As Schroeter noted, storage, including Spectrum storage and Flash, have been experiencing a few positive quarters and new products should help to continue that momentum. For example, products like IBM Spectrum Protect Plus promises to make data protection available in as little as one hour.

Or the IBM FlashSystem 900, introduced at the end of October promises to deliver efficient, ultra dense flash with CAPEX and OPEX savings due to 3x more capacity in a 2U enclosure. It also offers to maximize efficiency using inline data compression with no application performance impact as it achieves consistent 95 microsecond response times.

But probably the best 3Q news came from the continuing traction IBM’s strategic imperatives are gaining. Here these imperatives—cloud, security, cognitive computing—continue to make a serious contribution to IBM revenue. Third-quarter cloud revenues increased 20 percent to $4.1 billion.  Cloud revenue over the last 12 months was $15.8 billion, including $8.8 billion delivered as-a-service and $7.0 billion for hardware, software and services to enable IBM clients to implement comprehensive cloud solutions.  The annual exit run rate for as-a-service revenue increased to $9.4 billion from $7.5 billion in the third quarter of 2016.  In the quarter, revenues from analytics increased 5 percent.  Revenues from mobile increased 7 percent and revenues from security increased 51 percent. Added Schroeter: Revenue from our strategic imperatives over the last 12 months was also up 10% to $34.9 billion, and now represents 45% of IBM.

OK, so IBM is no longer a $100 + billion company and hasn’t been for some time. Maybe in a few years if blockchain and the strategic imperatives continue to grow and quantum catches fire it may be back over the $100 billion mark, but not sure how much it matters.

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.

Illusive Networks’ Mainframe Guard to Deter Cyber Attacks

October 18, 2017

At a time when IBM promised that automatic pervasive encryption on the new Z would spell an end to worries about security an Israeli company stepped forward this week to insist that the z14, or just Z, can’t do the entire job. Pervasive encryption can be undermined by Advanced Persistent Threats (APT), which co-op legit users as they access protected data. Illusive Networks introduced its security tool, Mainframe Guard, earlier this week at Sibos in Toronto.

Mainframe Guard enables admins to action against advanced, targeted cyberattacks by detecting and disrupting movement toward critical business assets early in the attack cycle. Illusive deploys sophisticated and confusing honeypots to distract, misguide, and trap an attacker before he or she can touch the data. In short, the security staff can identify and intervene against advanced, targeted cyberattacks by detecting and disrupting movement toward critical business assets early. With the new Z and pervasive security, of course, that data will already be encrypted and the keys safely stored out of reach.

IBM Breach Cost Estimator

At a time when organizations of all types and in every market segment are under attack from hackers, ransomware, data breaches, and more all data center managers should welcome any data protection tools that work. Yet 96% don’t even bother to encrypt—too costly, too cumbersome, too complicated. As DancingDinosaur noted at the Z launch, the list of excuses is endless. Of the 9 billion records breached since 2013 only 4% were encrypted! And you already know why: encryption is tedious, impacts staff, slows system performance, costs money, and more.

Such attitudes, especially at a mainframe shop, invite serious breaches. While IBM’s latest mainframe automatically encrypts all transaction data, the vast majority of systems expose significant vulnerabilities.

Making the situation even worse; the need to secure against innovations such as mobile applications, cloud-based services, and smart devices presents new challenges. “Organizations are sometimes reluctant to upgrade legacy applications and databases on these enterprise servers, particularly in today’s always-on economy. But unless you address every link in the end-to-end process, you haven’t secured it.” noted Andrew Howard, CTO at Kudelski Security, which cites experience remediating mainframe systems in the wake of cyber breaches.

Even older mainframe shops—pre pervasive encryption—can have effective security. Consider adding Mainframe Guard, which requires you to actively follow the threats and initiate defensive actions.

So how might an attacker today get around the Z’s pervasive encryption? The attack typically starts with lurking and watching as legitimate users gain access to the system. The attacker will then impersonate a legit user. Illusive, however, lures the attacker to locations where the attacker may think he or she has found a trove of intelligence gold.  “Remember, the attacker doesn’t know which machine he has landed on,” said Ofer Israeli, CEO of Illusive Networks. Unless the attacker brings inside information, he is blind inside the network.  From there Illusive leads constantly baits the attacker with deceptive information, which the attacker will have to dodge correctly to avoid giving away the attack.

Leveraging Illusive’s deceptive approach, Mainframe Guard works by detecting malicious movement toward the mainframe and providing a non-intrusive method of protecting the systems, the data they host, and the services they support. The solution is comprised of:

  • A family of deceptions for mainframe environments
  • The ability to display mainframe assets along with other sensitive assets in the Illusive Attacker View portion of the management console, which enables security personnel to see potential attack paths toward the mainframe and track the proximity and progress of attackers toward these assets
  • Purpose-built views of the mainframe environment monitor unexpected connections to mainframe servers
  • An interactive layer added to the Illusive Trap Server mimics mainframe behavior and login screens, tricking attackers into believing they are interacting with an actual mainframe system.

When everything is encrypted and the keys, APIs, and more are safeguarded with the Z’s pervasive encryption on top of Illusive’s deceptions, maybe you can finally begin to relax, at least until the next level of attacks start to emerge.

BTW, DancingDinosaur will be away for 2 weeks. Given IBM’s just released Q3 results. you can hear IBM’s relief even before I’m gone.  Expect some celebrating around the Z; nothing like a new machine to boost revenues. Look for DancingDinosaur the week of Nov. 6.

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.

Compuware Brings the Mainframe to AWS

October 6, 2017

IBM talks about the power of the cloud for the mainframe and has turned Bluemix into a cloud development and deployment platform for open systems. Where’s the Z?

Now Compuware has made for the past several years quarterly advances in its mainframe tooling, which are now  available through AWS. Not only have those advances made mainframe management and operations more intuitive and graphical through a string of Topaz releases, but with AWS it is now more accessible from anywhere. DancingDinosaur has been reporting on Compuware’s string of Topaz advances for two years, here, here, and here.

By tapping the power of both the cloud and the mainframe, enterprises can deploy Topaz to their global development workforce in minutes, accelerating the modernization of their mainframe environments. As Compuware noted: mainframe shops now have the choice of deploying Topaz on-premise or on AWS. By leveraging the cloud, they can deploy Topaz more quickly, securely, and scale without capital costs while benefiting from new Topaz features as soon as the company delivers them.

To make Topaz work on AWS Compuware turned to Amazon AppStream 2.0 technology, which provides for global development, test, and ops teams with immediate and secure cloud access to Compuware’s entire innovative mainframe Agile/DevOps solution stack, mainly Topaz. Amazon AppStream 2.0 is a fully managed, secure application streaming service that allows users to stream desktop applications from AWS to any device running a web browser.

Cloud-based deployment of Topaz, Compuware notes, allows for significantly faster implementation, simple administration, a virtual integrated development environment (IDE), adaptive capacity, and immediate developer access to software updates. The last of these is important, since Compuware has been maintaining a quarterly upgrade release schedule, in effect delivering new capabilities every 90 days.

Compuware is in the process of patenting technology to offer an intuitive, streamlined configuration menu that leverages AWS best practices to make it easy for mainframe admins to quickly configure secure connectivity between Topaz on AWS and their mainframe environment. It also enables the same connectivity to their existing cross-platform enterprise DevOps toolchains running on-premise, in the cloud, or both. The upshot: organizations can deploy Topaz across their global development workforce in minutes, accelerating the modernization of their mainframe environments.

Using Topaz on AWS, notes Compuware, mainframe shops can benefit in a variety of ways, specifically:

  • Modify, test and debug COBOL, PL/I, Assembler and other mainframe code via an Eclipse-based virtual IDE
  • Visualize complex and/or undocumented application logic and data relationships
  • Manage source code and promote artifacts through the DevOps lifecycle
  • Perform common tasks such as job submission, review, print and purge
  • Leverage a single data editor to discover, visualize, edit, compare, and protect mainframe files and data

The move to the Eclipse-based IDE presents a giant step for traditional mainframe shops trying to modernize. Eclipse is a leading open source IDE with IBM as a founding member. In addition to Eclipse, Compuware also integrates with other modern tools, including Jenkins, SonarSource, Altassian. Jenkins is an open source automation server written in Java that helps to automate the non-human part of software development process with continuous integration while facilitating technical aspects of continuous delivery. SonarSource enables visibility into mainframe application quality. Atlassian develops products for software developers, project managers, and content management and is best known for Jira, its issue tracking application.

Unlike many mainframe ISVs, Compuware has been actively partnering with various innovative vendors to extend the mainframe’s tool footprint and bring the kind of tools to the mainframe that young developers, especially Millennials, want. Yes, it is possible to access the sexy REST-based Web and mobile tools through IBM’s Bluemix, but for mainframe shops it appears kludgy. By giving its mainframe customers access through AWS to advanced tools, Compuware improves on this. And AWS beats Bluemix in terms of cloud penetration and low cost.

All mainframe ISVs should make their mainframe products accessible through the cloud if they want to keep their mainframe products relevant. IBM has its cloud; of course there is AWS, Microsoft has Azure, and Google rounds out the top four. These and others will keep cloud economics competitive for the foreseeable future. Hope to see you in the cloud.

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.

 

New Oracle SPARC M8 Mimics IBM Z

September 28, 2017

Not even two weeks ago, Oracle announced its eighth-generation SPARC platform, the SPARC M8, as an engineered system and as a cloud service. The new system promises the world’s most advanced processor, breakthrough performance, and security enhancements with Software in Silicon v2 for Oracle Cloud, Oracle Engineered Systems, and Servers. Furthermore, the new SPARC M8 line of servers and engineered systems extend the existing M7 portfolio products, and includes: SPARC T8-1 server, SPARC T8-2 server, SPARC T8-4 server, SPARC M8-8 server and Oracle SuperCluster M8.

Oracle SPARC M7

Pictured above is Oracle SPARC M7, the previous generation SPARC. The new SPARC M8 systems deliver up to 7x better performance, security capabilities, and efficiency than Intel-based systems.  Seems like the remaining active enterprise system vendors, mainly IBM and Oracle, want to present their systems as beating Intel. Both companies, DancingDinosaur suspects, will discover that beating Intel by a few gigahertz or microseconds or nanoseconds won’t generate the desired stream of new customers ready to ditch the slower Intel systems they have used for, by now, decades.  Oracle and IBM will have to deliver something substantially more tangible and distinctive.

For the z14, it should be pervasive encryption, which reduces or eliminates data compliance audit burdens and the corresponding fear of costly data breaches. Don‘t we all wish Equifax had encrypted its data, unless yours somehow are NOT among the 140 million or so compromised records. DancingDinosaur covered the Z launch in July. Not surprisingly, Oracle never mentioned the z14 or IBM in its M8 announcement or data sheet.

What Oracle did say was this: the Oracle SuperCluster M8 engineered systems and SPARC T8 and M8 servers, are designed to seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructures and include fully integrated virtualization and management for private cloud. All existing commercial and custom applications will run on SPARC M8 systems unchanged with new levels of performance, security capabilities, and availability. The SPARC M8 processor with Software in Silicon v2 extends the industry’s first Silicon Secured Memory, which provides always-on hardware-based memory protection for advanced intrusion protection and end-to-end encryption and Data Analytics Accelerators (DAX) with open API’s for breakthrough performance and efficiency running Database analytics and Java streams processing. Oracle Cloud SPARC Dedicated Compute service will also be updated with the SPARC M8 processor.

It almost sounds like a weak parody of IBM’s July z14 announcement here. The following is part of what IBM wrote: Pervasively encrypts data, all the time at any scale. Addresses global data breach epidemic; helps automate compliance for EU General Data Protection Regulation, Federal Reserve, and other emerging regulations. Encrypts data 18x faster than compared x86 platforms, at 5 percent of the cost.

Not sure what DancingDinosaur was expecting Oracle to say. Maybe some recognition that there is another enterprise server out there making similar promises and claims. Certainly it could have benchmarked its own database against the z13 if not the z14. DancingDinosaur may be a mainframe bigot but is no true blue fan of IBM.

What Oracle did say seemed somewhat thin and x86-obsessed:

  • Database: Engineered to run Oracle Database faster than any other microprocessor, SPARC M8 delivers 2x faster OLTP performance per core than x86 and 1.4x faster than M7 microprocessors, as well as up to 7x faster database analytics than x86.
  • Java: SPARC M8 delivers 2x better Java performance than x86 and 1.3x better than M7 microprocessors. DAX v2 produces 8x more efficient Java streams processing, improving overall application performance.
  • In Memory Analytics: Innovative new processor delivers 7x Queries per Minute (QPM)/core than x86 for database analytics.

But one thing Oracle did say appears truly noteworthy for a computer vendor: Oracle’s long history of binary compatibility across processor generations continues with M8, providing an upgrade path for customers when they are ready. Oracle has also publicly committed to supporting Solaris until at least 2034. DancingDinosaur expects to retire in a few years. Hope to not be reading Oracle or IBM press releases then.

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 Moves Quantum Computing Toward Commercial Systems

September 20, 2017

IBM seem determined to advance quantum computing. Just this week IBM announced its researchers developed a new approach to simulate molecules on a quantum computer that may one day help revolutionize chemistry and materials science. In this case, the researchers implemented a novel algorithm that is efficient with respect to the number of quantum operations required for the simulation. This involved a 7-qubit processor.

7-cubit processor

In the diagram above IBM scientists successfully used six qubits on a purpose-built seven-qubit quantum device to address the molecular structure problem for beryllium hydride (BeH2) – the largest molecule simulated on a quantum computer to date.

Back in May IBM announced an even bigger quantum device. It prototyped the first commercial processor with 17 qubits and leverages significant materials, device, and architecture improvements to make it the most powerful quantum processor created to date by IBM. This week’s announcement certainly didn’t surpass it in size. IBM engineered the 17-qubit system to be at least twice as powerful as what is available today to the public on the IBM Cloud and it will be the basis for the first IBM Q early-access commercial systems.

It has become apparent to the scientists and researchers who try to work with complex mathematical problems and simulations that the most powerful conventional commercial computers are not up to the task. Even the z14 with its 10-core CPU and hundreds of additional processors dedicated to I/O cannot do the job.

As IBM puts it: Even today’s most powerful supercomputers cannot exactly simulate the interacting behavior of all the electrons contained in a simple chemical compound such as caffeine. The ability of quantum computers to analyze molecules and chemical reactions could help accelerate research and lead to the creation of novel materials, development of more personalized drugs, or discovery of more efficient and sustainable energy sources.

The interplay of atoms and molecules is responsible for all matter that surrounds us in the world. Now “we have the potential to use quantum computers to boost our knowledge of natural phenomena in the world,” said Dario Gil, vice president of AI research and IBM Q, IBM Research. “Over the next few years, we anticipate IBM Q systems’ capabilities to surpass what today’s conventional computers can do, and start becoming a tool for experts in areas such as chemistry, biology, healthcare and materials science.”

So commercial quantum systems are coming.  Are you ready to bring a quantum system into you data center? Actually you can try one today for free here  or through GitHub, which offers a Python software development kit for writing quantum computing experiments, programs, and applications. Although DancingDinosaur will gladly stumble through conventional coding, quantum computing probably exceeds his frustration level even with a Python development kit.

However, if your organization is involved in these industries—materials science, chemistry, and the like or is wrestling with a problem you cannot do on a conventional computer—it probably is worth a try, especially for free. You can try an easy demo card game that compares quantum computing with conventional computing.

But as reassuringly as IBM makes quantum computing sound, don’t kid yourself; it is very complicated.  Deploying even a small qubit machine is not going to be like buying your first PC. Quantum bits, reportedly, are very fragile or transitory. Labs will keep them very cold just to better stabilize the system and keep them from switching their states before they should.  Just think how you’d feel about your PC if the bit states of 0 and 1 suddenly and inextricably changed.

That’s not the only possible headache. You only have limited time to work on cubits given their current volatility when not super cooled. Also, work still is progressing on advancing the quantum frameworks and mapping out ecosystem enablement.

Even IBM researchers admit that some problems may not be better on quantum computers. Still, until you pass certain threshold, like qubit volume, your workload might not perform better on a quantum computer. The IBM quantum team suggests it will take until 2021 to consistently solve a problem that has commercial relevance using quantum computing.

Until then, and even after, IBM is talking about a hybrid approach in which parts of a problem are solved with a quantum computer and the rest with a conventional system. So don’t plan on replacing your Z with a few dozen or even hundreds of qubits anytime soon.

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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