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Big Blue ties its IBM Z Series tighter to hybrid clouds

In its ongoing mission to keep mainframes relevant, IBM rolled out a raft of hardware and software offerings that move it closer to the heart of IT shops' hybrid cloud strategies.

IBM tied its mainframes and hybrids clouds closer together this week, unveiling several enhancements that extend the reach of its z15 and LinuxOne III mainframes across cloud-native development, security and resiliency.

The new improvements are the latest in IBM's efforts to make its venerable mainframe platform relevant in the rapidly evolving age of the cloud and AI technologies. There are some indications that the company's persistence is paying off.

In its second-quarter earnings report, the IBM Z Series mainframe sales grew 69%, according to the company, achieving the highest year-over-year growth of any other division. Its cloud business didn't fare so badly, either, reporting that revenues rose 22% compared with last year's second quarter.

"Our strategy has been to put the mainframe in the middle of users' [cloud] strategy so they can run and manage current and future workloads, as well as orchestrate all of those pieces together," said Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM's Z and LinuxOne businesses. "The success we are seeing now, however, hasn't happened overnight."

Why the Z Series has grown

There are multiple factors behind the success of the Z Series. One is that the system shipped just less than a year ago. Sales of new mainframes are traditionally brisk during the first year or two before they inevitably level off and decline, only to rise again with the arrival of a new system.

Optimizing Red Hat apps for the mainframe is the next step forward for IBM, much like the purchase of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers was in the early 2000s.
Frank DzubeckPresident, Communications Network Architects

The other, more upbeat reason, may offer hope that mainframes sales will continue upward beyond its traditional sales cycle: Versions of Red Hat's popular open source applications and tools work with the Z Series, including OpenShift and Ansible.

"It's a wise decision, but an obvious one," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects Inc. "Optimizing these apps [for the mainframe] is the next step forward for them -- much like the purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers was in the early 2000s."

Also providing some wind at the back of mainframe sales was the COVID-19 virus, which forced many corporate users to move mission-critical workloads from on premises to the clouds and to accommodate the millions of workers who moved from offices to work-from-home environments.

As importantly, it was the significant uptick among IBM's banking and credit card accounts, in tandem with its Capacity Upgrade on Demand service, that pushed mainframe sales skyward in the second quarter, according to Mauri.

"Many industries are in a slump [because of COVID-19], but online sales are way up and that means payments through credit card and banking systems," Mauri said. "Plus, in the second quarter, we had four times more [storage] capacity on demand available than we did a year ago."

Growing mainframe revenues also got a boost from new workloads added to the z15 and LinuxOne platforms, causing users to either buy new systems or significantly upgrade their older mainframes.

The company reported that in the second quarter there was a 55% increase in Linux MIPS, the standard measure of compute power being used on IBM mainframes.

Also released by IBM

IBM made Cloud Pak for Applications 4.2 available on the IBM Z version 4.2. This allows developers and system architects to bring new applications to market more quickly by utilizing IBM Z's security features and ability to scale.

IBM also expanded access to its z/OS Container Extensions, letting developers deploy a large number of open source and Linux applications into their native z/OS environments without requiring a separate Linux server. This allows developers to now work with popular open source tools, including NoSQL databases, analytics frameworks and applications servers.

Big Blue said the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform is now available for IBM Z and LinuxOne. IBM officials noted that this brings together the cloud-native environments of containers and Kubernetes with the security and scalability of IBM's mainframes.

The company also unveiled Red Hat Ansible for IBM Z. The new offering aids in automating z/OS applications and IT infrastructure and helps establish a more consistent automation strategy when used in concert with Red Hat's Ansible.

IBM delivered a handful of new security products, most notably a cryptographic offering that lets the z15 and LinuxOne support as many as 60 crypto hardware security modules (HSMs). This means the mainframe systems can support more than 5,100 HSMs.

"IBM is looking at the markets that really care about very high and reliable levels of security -- mainly, healthcare and financial services -- and catering to their needs," said Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates. "Some of those companies are terrified about protecting their data."

Earlier this summer, IBM announced the IBM Cloud for Financial Services, which is built to enable a transparent public cloud ecosystem with features dedicated to security, compliance and resiliency.

The company complemented its software offering with an assortment of hardware products, including a new accelerator for sort functions using a CPU coprocessor that reduces elapsed time-sort workloads, thereby improving the performance of the Db2 database; improved z15 T02 configuration options that frees up space in a rack to integrate selected storage devices and switches; and an improved z15 and LinuxOne continuous delivery process compatible with older Z systems that allows them to take advantage of the most recent hybrid cloud features.

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