IBM Z’s Role in the
‘Multi’ World

The mainframe remains a cornerstone for multicloud and multiplatform strategies

By Shirley S. Savage

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Today’s IT environment is energized by choice, collaboration, compute and cloud. IT is now all about multiples—multiplatform, multicloud and multivendor. Open source has broadened the number of contributors to source code and applications.

Organizations are making strategic decisions about IT that involve the day-to-day handling of transactions as well as capitalizing on the environment of multiples. Decisions include what kind of multicloud configuration to use, which platforms to deploy and how to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI). Clients are recognizing that IBM Z is a cornerstone to most multiplatform, multicloud environments.

“Choice is the number one strategy that we are seeing. Choice is one reason many organizations are turning to multicloud arrangements. Public, private and hybrid clouds change how you use your compute power. It's not just what organizations have on premises, but also what they are doing to access the data.”

R. “Ray” Wang // Founder and principal analyst, Constellation Research

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst, Constellation Research

Choosing the Right Infrastructure
IT needs to be flexible to respond to new and evolving business needs. Businesses are being buffeted by rapidly changing business models and standards, which affects business continuity. Organizations need to be more resilient to handle business model shifts. “It’s really about how efficiently companies can get new ideas out to market,” notes R. “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst, Constellation Research.

The need for flexibility is driving IT to make infrastructure decisions based on choice. “Choice is the No. 1 strategy that we are seeing,” Wang says. Choice is one reason many organizations are turning to multicloud arrangements.

“Public, private and hybrid clouds change how you use your compute power,” Wang notes. “It’s not just what organizations have on premises, but also what they are doing to access the data.” Multicloud allows organizations to run their workloads and storage efficiently.

A recent IBM Institute for Business Value survey bears this out. The survey found that three-quarters of enterprise clients have multicloud environments. “With enterprises having moved just 20 percent of their workload to existing cloud offerings, a $1 trillion market exists for vendors who can offer the most compelling hybrid cloud solutions,” the survey says.

Barry Baker, vice president, Offering & Product Management, IBM Z and LinuxONE, underscores this point. “The future isn’t one cloud or one platform,” he says. “The future is heterogeneous and using the right platform for the workload.”

The IBM Z platform has been part of the cloud story from the beginning. The z/OS environment has all of the qualities of the cloud including multitenant and workload handling but not self service, notes Rosalind Radcliffe, Distinguished Engineer, chief architect for DevOps, IBM. To remedy that, IBM is dedicated to incorporating self service on the mainframe. “Many of our clients already have incorporated self service and the mainframe is part of the hybrid cloud,” she says.

In addition, an organization’s DevOps and DevSecOps strategies can determine cloud choices. Companies with advanced DevOps tend to be the most innovative businesses, creating differentiation in the market, Wang observes.

The mainframe has a vital and important role in multiplatform concepts. Multiplatform strategies provide speed of delivery and flexibility, and allow clients’ ecosystems to open up for business growth and innovation, notes Sherri Hanna, program director, Worldwide IBM Z Marketing. “The IBM Z platform should be a key component of that multicloud strategy because businesses run their transactions and store their data on Z. Then clients can extend the qualities of Z to the private cloud—security, reliability and availability,” she says.

Security and Compliance
Whether a system is on premises or in the cloud, it must be secure. Protecting both enterprise and customer data and complying with data mandates are critical factors for any organization. Mainframes set the gold standard when it comes to security. IBM’s emphasis on security includes data protection and regulatory compliance. Data regulations are constantly changing, creating moving targets of requirements and increasingly larger fines for failing to meet regulations.

Pervasive encryption was added to IBM Z to make data protection easier and simpler for clients. That saves time and money. “Users can protect the data without application changes and independent of any of the challenges they may have of identifying and classifying their sensitive data,” says Michael Jordan, Distinguished Engineer, IBM Z Security. “Encryption is integrated into the stack, leverages the capabilities of the hardware and is done in bulk, which significantly drives down the cost and reduces management.”

IBM believes that data protection should be part of the infrastructure, not part of the application. That view frees application developers to focus on adding business value. “Pervasive encryption provides a high level of protection without having to change or modify applications,” Jordan says.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a security tool that goes hand in hand with encryption. Both are used to prevent hackers from infiltrating systems. Enterprise-wide key management adds another important layer of security. The IBM Z platform features protected encryption keys that aren’t usable off the platform. Besides keeping the data safe on the system, enterprise-wide encryption keys stymie ransomware attacks.

IBM is continuously adding security innovations. LinuxONE technology has cryptographic capabilities that enable a single LinuxONE server to provide virtual cryptographic domains for thousands of clients without having to set up specific hardware for each one of those. “Users get hardware protection essentially at cloud scale within a LinuxONE server,” Jordan comments. “As encryption becomes more and more ubiquitous, and built into the data protection of cloud services, that’s going to become absolutely essential,” he notes.

Data-centric security is becoming an important market focus. “Data-centric security needs to be built into every cloud service as a mechanism to protect the data as it is being consumed,” Jordan points out. IBM also is looking at extending data protection beyond the perimeter of the mainframe.

IBM continues to follow emerging cryptographic technology such as homomorphic encryption, which offers the promise of being able to query and operate on data without the need to decrypt the data. “Stay tuned for more on those developments,” Jordan notes.

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Efficient, Agile and Open
The mainframe’s efficiency has been recognized for years. That efficiency is a big plus when it comes to current IT and workload demands. “Everything from AI to new business models to Internet of Things to blockchain will come down to who has the most efficient compute power,” Wang says. If companies use a kilowatt per hour cost to calculate computing cost, it becomes clear that the mainframe is very efficient. “Having a mainframe within the data center is becoming a leading strategy for many businesses,” Wang says.

Because of that efficiency, organizations continue to choose the mainframe. “Mainframe workloads are increasing somewhere between 10 to 20 percent MIPS growth for companies that run them,” Wang says. Significant improvements, performance and cost benefits are driving migration to Z, he says.

The platform is extremely agile as well. The mainframe has high reliability and the fast I/O needed for high transaction throughput processing. The platform can scale up very quickly and then scale down to meet changing capacity requirements.

IBM has added modern development tools and practices to IBM Z. The mainframe can handle traditional languages like COBOL as well as widely used languages like Java and Node.js. The ability to tap into typical DevOps capabilities like automated deployments, CI/CD and shift left testing enables the Z platform to be a first class participant in agile multiplatform application development. “Clients can choose to use GitHub and Jenkins to build up an open-source pipeline just as they can do on any other platform,” Radcliffe points out. “Open-source elements provide additional ways of doing development and new ways of using the platform,” she adds.

Introducing Zowe
The ability of IBM Z to embrace open source is demonstrated by Zowe, which was announced in August 2018. It is the first open-source project based on z/OS and provides innovation opportunities by tapping into the open-source community. Zowe is supported by the Open Mainframe Project, which is part of the Linux Foundation. IBM, CA Technologies and Rocket Software are original contributors to Zowe.


“Zowe was developed to help developers, operations personnel and system administrators with open-source knowledge become productive on the mainframe,” says Baker. The Zowe team identified several areas that needed to be addressed including a new web user interface, a scriptable command-line interface as well as extensions to existing REST APIs and new REST APIs on z/OS. These REST APIs provide a standard mechanism to access mainframe services to simplify how users interact with the platform while performing typical day-to-day tasks. Feedback from users on the new project has been positive.

Zowe leverages IBM Z and builds on top of the strong, robust foundation of performance, security and scalability found on the mainframe. “It’s about changing the experience and doing so in an open fashion, enabling our vendors and partners and clients to all jump in,” Baker points out. Within the next few months, IBM will be announcing commercial offerings built on the Zowe foundation.

At the forefront of innovation for today’s IT environment, the IBM Z platform is adding new services and capabilities to meet today’s business demands. Clients can continue to rely on the mainframe to support and enhance their businesses and IT requirements.

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