I’m at IBM Edge this week and in an IBM z Systems presentation. This is a bit of a “Back To The Future” segment for me because z Systems is the latest implementation of the IBM Mainframe which I first learned to program on. If we went back to 1984 when I entered the tech market, that decade the common belief was that the mainframe was dead as an architecture. But at the heart of the mainframe was the idea that computational power was more efficient if centralized, and that a system optimized on I/O could better handle a massive number of clients than individual remote systems. While initially individual servers better segmented workloads; thanks to virtualization and the idea of “the cloud” once again the concept of the mainframe is trendy, albeit as a sort of super-server at scale.
But, recently, blockchain has turned the mainframe from being competitive to becoming cutting edge—and rather than chasing industry standard servers, suddenly it is leading them.
Let’s talk IBM z Systems this week.
One of the new components enabling z Systems to function in the current world is Ez-Source which is an IBM acquisition. This tool provides for the centralized management of a variety of software platforms and applications visually. This tool helps firms to simplify their code base, identify and eliminate dead code, and to analyze the code so that it can be optimized against the platform.
This allows you to leverage the hardware and software assets in the system and expose them to developers in a managed fashion. This takes core mainframe applications and allows them to become exposed as a cloud service to clients and mobile devices. This is mostly for mainframe legacy applications carrying over legacy applications to new platforms.
IBM then moved to analytics and shared statistics showcasing the vast majority of companies are aggressively using analytics to manage their advertising spend particularly on the web. IBM argued that the massive amount of data needed to do this analysis in a timely manner, and the need to connect various data sources in order to get accurate analysis both uniquely tied to z Systems’ unique technology advantages. These analytics also apply to analyzing the system and optimizing it for the related loads. This not only helps assure that complex analytics are done timely and completely but that the resources used can be optimized, reducing the underlying costs. Customer demonstrations revolved around Apache Spark which was represented as the Java of data analysis.
The demonstration was on a fictional bank wanting to reduce churn and showcasing the ability of a mainframe solution to better chart and identify churn risk—the customers that intend to leave the bank—and estimate the related revenue loss. This would allow the bank to resource and prioritize remedial actions toward those customers that represented the greatest risk, better protecting their customer base and assuring their revenue stream.
IBM has been a massive supporter of Linux and its support for Linux on the mainframe has enabled mainframe users to aggressively deploy current generation applications. Supporting a variety of Linux distributions, hypervisors, languages, runtimes, management platforms, databases, and analytics platforms this has been one of the big drivers for z Systems sales in recent years. This coupled with IBM’s community efforts allows this platform—once thought to be obsolete—to remain extremely competitive, bridging legacy workloads and current workloads and creating the ideal solution for an increasing number of customers who have found that the cloud, and a system optimized on I/O go together very nicely, very nicely indeed.
Wrapping Up: Blockchain
It amazes me how often the technology industry calls a technology dead only to find that it not only isn’t dead, but those old ideas have current relevance. The mainframe, now z Systems, is a perfect example of this. It went into decline because it’s I/O advantage didn’t help much in a world that required applications run on dedicated hardware, but with the emergence of hypervisors and the cloud concept suddenly I/O is important and much of what I’ve talked about above speaks to why the mainframe is competitive again.
However, with the emergence of blockchain in the financial community as a way to better assure transactions and massively reduce fraud, the mainframe actually has a huge potential competitive advantage over separate servers. Blockchain improves financial contracting document flow massively as a process and z Systems currently has a 60 percent performance advantage over industry standard servers and is more secure with blockchain.
Suddenly, mainframes are not only not obsolete, they are cutting edge, go figure. Yep the mainframe is back, with a vengeance.