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IBM z14 Model ZR1 Is Ready for Cloud, Pervasive Encryption and More

IBM z14 Model ZR1
IBM z14 Model ZR1 photo by Matt Carr

How can medium-sized businesses solve the conundrum of scaling for business growth with ease and confidence?

The answer is the latest lean, mean and super fast player in the IBM Z* product line, the IBM z14* Model ZR1. It hits the field of play with a complete new physical system design. In a world where business growth is about getting to new opportunities fast, IBM is offering businesses of all sizes a path to take advantage of their most modern technology for cloud and security.

So why a new form factor? It’s simple. The emergence of cloud services designed for businesses is dominating the landscape. But there’s much more to the story. This new system fits right in as it’s sized to seamlessly move into industry-standard cloud data centers. And more important is how this new system handles security, how it integrates with cloud environments—public, private and hybrid—and how it brings a new level of flexibility and adaptability to the business and to the IT organization.

Not only is this new system modern and cutting edge, a new generation was key in the development and approach. “About a third of our development team here in Poughkeepsie is made up of millennials,” remarks Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM Z and LinuxONE*. IBM Poughkeepsie is considered the “Home of IBM Z,” and when on site you can see these new folks working on all aspects of the system, from the hardware to the OSes to the middleware, leveraging agile practices and design thinking principles.

That attitude is reflected in the remarkable flexibility and enhanced functionality of this system. The IBM Z platform has always been strong enough to handle workload peaks, allowing clients to use what they need when they need it. It can run four OSes (IBM z/OS*, Linux* on IBM Z, IBM z/VSE*, IBM z/TPF) and two virtualization solutions (IBM z/VM* and KVM) at the same time. The recent announcement brings even more flexibility—in terms of configuration, operating environments, ecosystem and consumption models.

“The IBM z14 ZR1 enables you to flex and respond to changing demands and growth much more rapidly and at a better cost point than the horizontal scaling approach,” says Tina Tarquinio, IBM Z offering lead.

z14 Designed to Deliver Business Value

The IBM z14, including the latest model, is targeted at both IBM’s existing global user base to address current clients’ needs and new clients. Using IBM Design Thinking principles, over 200 clients had input into the z14 offerings, which resulted in impactful offerings that deliver increased business value and improved end user experiences.

Clients will experience the high availability, scalability and security they rely on IBM Z for, and will get all that in a new system design. This new design features an industry-standard 19-inch rack with lower power costs and a 40 percent smaller footprint, while also having a 10 percent larger capacity compared to the previous generation. The design allows clients to easily use this system in any data center environment. It’s designed and built for both on-premises and cloud use, seamlessly integrating into clients’ heterogeneous enterprise architectures.

“The IBM Z platform provides performance, scalability and security to users’ open-source stacks, without application changes. It’s interesting that you could pick up standard software and move it from one vendor's platform to another’s and see no appreciable change, but when it runs on Z, it runs faster. It will be more resilient and inherit the improved security characteristics of the platform,” Tarquinio notes. This new IBM Z offering can run 240 concurrent databases executing a total of 58 billion database transactions per day.

The z14 ZR1 can be used by cloud service providers in very small-capacity increments. It can help provider clients start small and then grow as their businesses do. This system scales quite well and can accommodate a company’s 100-fold growth with plenty of room left for future computing demands. Running 330,000 Docker containers at once, and up to 8 TB of memory, it can handle any workloads and scale to meet business peaks.

“When you talk about where the industry is going, where developers are going in terms of moving to Docker, Kubernetes-based application deployments and MongoDB data stores, the idea of scaling can be a challenge with typical Linux commodity hardware base. The z14 ZR1 allows you to flex and respond to changing demands much more rapidly and at a better cost than other architectural approaches. That's been a major design focus for IBM Z,” Tarquinio says.

Built With Pervasive Encryption in Mind

“Hundreds of differences exist between the z14 ZR1 and its predecessors,” Mauri says, with the total being greater than the sum of their parts. “At a basic level, this system is faster and has more capacity, but that's just the beginning of the story. It has significantly more memory (up to 8 TB) because more workloads involve analytics and you want to run them in as much memory as much as you can for speed of execution. Then you add in the size and capability of the I/O subsystem, the new links that connect the system to storage, and you’re talking big differences,” he adds. On top of that, many of these new features require no application changes, so clients can benefit right away.

One of these differences is the IBM Secure Service Container, which is used for the secure deployment of virtual software appliances. This makes the z14 the most secure Linux platform for hosting modern, cloud-native, container-based applications as part of IBM’s overall Docker container strategy.

“The Secure Service Container is a virtual appliance that enables end-to-end encryption of code and data in the container. It allows them to lock down the application and data and make them immune to malware, ransomware, insider threats and the scraping of crypto-keys,” Mauri says.

The Secure Service Container is complementary with IBM Z pervasive encryption. As designed and implemented, IBM’s pervasive encryption allows for the encryption of data, both at-rest and in-flight, at speeds faster than end-to-end encryption tools on x86–up to 2.8x faster. This speed difference is in large part due to having crypto engines built into the latest IBM Z microprocessors. This design, standard on all IBM z14 models, ensures that overall system performance won’t be lessened to a noticeable degree by using encrypted data.

“Pervasive encryption won’t change your service-level agreements. There may be a slight increase in compute resource consumption, but it’s so small that, when coupled with the new performance levels on the z14, you’ll never see it, especially when compared to older generation systems. This is important, because many of our clients are in some of the most heavily regulated industries or operate under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and need to be protected by rock-solid security,” Tarquinio explains. “The IBM Z14 ZR1 can encrypt 10 GBs of data a second, so every transaction, every database interaction can run encrypted with no transaction interruptions. That's based on CPU innovations including cryptographic acceleration on every core, larger memory and a faster and more scalable I/O subsystem.” The new models boast up to 850 million encrypted transactions a day.

Accelerating Application Development and Analytics

Another difference involves the multiplatform interpretive language Java*. It runs faster on the z14 ZR1 than competing platforms, but more than that, removes some critical Java development pain points. Large Java applications periodically manage memory heap sizes in a process called garbage collection, which can impact application responsiveness.

To counter this, IBM built into the hardware and the software a function called pause-less garbage collection. As a result, very large Java programs running on the z14 ZR1 won't experience the same “hiccups they do running on every other system,” Mauri notes. In fact, new and existing secure Java workload performance has been improved by up to 30 percent, latency by 50 percent, and overall Java on IBM Z outperforms java on x86 by 50 percent.

In addition, many z14 VR1 features help accelerate advanced analytics, including technology such as the IBM Db2* Analytics Accelerator for IBM z/OS to support the IBM Db2 database. This approach allows for simultaneous support for traditional online transaction processing and advanced analytics workloads.

IBM has also delivered support for machine learning and artificial intelligence technology natively on IBM Z with its introduction of IBM Open Data Analytics for z/OS, which includes Python, Anaconda and Apache Spark. This is in an effort to build out a full data-analytics environment and open it up to existing and new tools that can take advantage of IBM Z data where it resides, and in real time.

“We’ve opened up IBM Z to all the new types of data-science tools that are out there, making IBM Machine Learning for z/OS the most advanced machine learning system in the world. We’re building on our heritage, with an industrial-strength database that scales and performs like no other and allowing users to access their data via open source or other companies’ analytics tools,” Mauri says.

In the past, data may have been moved to a specialized analytics environment to reduce latency issues on production systems. By adding new instruction sets and delivering additional performance improvements to the z14 ZR1, this type of analytics can be performed on this system, helping improve the speed of insights without introducing risk associated with the movement of data.

“We start at the bottom of the stack, accelerating the core. Then we move up the stack to an open-source platform and open-source tooling that are common and used by today’s data scientists,” Tarquinio notes. “They can now get onto the IBM Z platform and access data just like they would on any dedicated analytics platform. The data is protected, thanks to the ability to take advantage of our IBM Z security. The data remains on the source database so data scientists have the analytics tools of their choice to derive value from their data as quickly as possible.”

Also accelerating z14 ZR1 performance is improved I/O speed. IBM zHyperLink Express is a new direct-connect short-distance link designed to deliver low-latency connectivity between z14 and FICON storage systems. It also improves application response time, cutting I/O-sensitive workload response time by up to 50 percent without requiring application changes. When a major bank is running thousands of transactions a second, improved response times such as this are significant, positively impacting the bank and its customers.

19-Inch Rack Provides Space for Storage

Clients looking to customize their IBM Z even more can utilize unused space in the new 19-inch frame, by placing other data center components in the frame. This allows storage vendors to put a storage subsystem in the rack along with the server and basically have a data center in a single frame, for example. This new rack-space friendly design allows them to put a cost-effective rack footprint in these data centers. Clients looking to grow into new markets could use this customization as a way to have enterprise infrastructure in a smaller footprint.

Working with their partners in IBM Storage, this announcement includes a statement of direction for a rack-mounted all flash IBM Storage offering, that will fit into the unused space in an IBM z14 ZR1. “Taking advantage of the continuing reduction in size and increasing power of microelectronics, we've now packaged this so you can put a full z14 ZR1 and a flash array in a single cost-savings frame,” Maui says. “We’ve had clients ask for this, and we think many of them, as well as business partners, are going to be excited about this.”

When you combine the power of IBM Z, and the optimization with storage, you begin to get a feel of how the IBM Z team approaches the design and development of these systems end to end.

A Technological Orchestra

As clients move toward a mixture of infrastructure, between on-premises and cloud, their needs may change, but the IBM Z platform is so versatile it can be relied on to meet business demands. It’s fast, flexible, scalable and secure, and promotes advanced analytics and machine learning. Its services can stay within the confines of a company’s walls or extend to the cloud. The choice is the user’s.

And make no mistake about it, these systems are built for today’s advanced workloads and ever-changing data requirements. They’re new, fresh and ready for another generation of users and workloads.

“From the silicon up, we build our own systems—the CPU architecture, the microprocessor architecture and implementation, the I/O subsystem, the cache hierarchy, the microcode, the virtualization layers. We innovate throughout the stack, more so than anyone else in the industry,” Mauri says. “As a result, we can design and tune everything in the stack to work in harmony, like an orchestra. That’s one of our advantages.”

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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