2017 seems to be picking up where 2016 left off, and there seems to be a spring in the step of the mainframe world. Vendors, who never claim business is a bit flat anyway, seem to have bigger smiles when they tell me that business has been good. And at user group meetings, sites seem to be trialling newer software and techniques, whereas before they had been reluctant to try anything new.
On the downside, of course, the IT world has been reeling from ransomware and other cyberattacks. In June 2017, WannaCry locked computers and messages appeared demanding $300 in Bitcoins to regain access. We also heard in 2017 that members of the British Parliament had had their emails hacked. Deloitte was hit by a cyberattack, which accessed emails, usernames, passwords, health information and details from Deloitte’s clients. Equifax had 143 million customer account details, including names, social security numbers, driver’s licenses and credit card numbers of around 200,000 people hacked. And the list goes on.
The big news was in July, when IBM announced the new IBM z14 platform
and we all started saying “pervasive encryption.” The new mainframe had more total system capacity compared to the IBM z13; faster uniprocessor performance than the z13; 170 cores to configure (141 on z13); up to 32 TB of available redundant array of independent memory real memory per server; 2x more on-chip cache per core, compared to z13; hardware accelerated encryption on every core with the Central Processor Assist Cryptographic Function feature; new instructions in single instruction, multiple data, which are designed to give a performance boost for traditional workloads using COBOL and new applications like analytics; and much more.
But what is pervasive encryption? It doesn’t have an official definition, but generally means the ability to encrypt everything everywhere without interfering with the user experience. The IBM z14 mainframe can do real-time encryption of all mobile transactions up to 12 billion encrypted transactions per day.
The new mainframe has an encryption engine, which gives a 7x increase in cryptographic performance over the z13, with a 4x increase in silicon dedicated to cryptographic algorithms. It protects encryption keys with so-called tamper responding hardware, which invalidates keys at any sign of meddling, and IBM says they can be safely restored later. This capability can be extended outside the z14 to storage systems and servers in the cloud.
A Secure Service Container is claimed to protect against insider threats from contractors and privileged users, providing automatic data and code encryption in-flight and at-rest, and tamper-resistance during installation and runtime. The z14 can “pervasively encrypt data associated with any application, cloud service, or database all the time.”
The new processor lifted IBM’s spirits, as did its third quarter figures in October, which registered a strong recovery following a weak first half of the year. There was a 0.4 percent decline in revenue, to $19.15bn, and IBM’s pro forma earnings per share rose 11 percent to $3.30. In the third quarter, revenue from the strategic initiatives (cloud, analytics, mobile, social and security) rose 11 percent. Cloud now represents 20 percent of IBM’s total revenue. Revenue from the mainframe business jumped 60 percent in the third quarter, mainly because the z14 began shipping in mid-September.
IBM has been much less acquisitive in 2017, with only three companies. First, in February, it acquired Agile 3 Solutions for its information security business. In May, it acquired German-owned XCC (a division of TIMETOACT) for its collaboration software. And in October, it acquired Australian Vivant Digital for its innovation consultancy business.
In terms of big software announcements, during the year, IBM announced CICS Transaction Server for z/OS V5.4. And the company also announced IMS V15.
2017 seems to have been the year when IBM changed case. Things that used to be capitalized no longer are, and things that weren’t capitalized are now. People still talk about System z, which changed its name to z Systems, but is now IBM Z (yes, that’s a capital). Or what about DB2, or, as we should now call it, Db2? The “B” is now lowercase—putting the emphasis on the data and not on the base.
2017 also saw hackathons becoming more mainstream and a way for large organizations to offer better service to their customers. For a hackathon to be successful, the existing technology needs to be commoditized and abstracted. APIs are the driver. And if the product that’s created by the end of the hackathon doesn’t work, then it can be treated as a learning experience for the people working on that project. Blockchain is great for hackathons because it is digital and secure.
As well as pervasive encryption, other words or acronyms people in 2017 were starting to use in connection with mainframes include: Blockchain, Bluemix, destruction of service attacks, digital transformation, Docker, edge computing, enterprise content management, General Data Protection Regulation, GitHub, Jenkins, security information and event management and Swagger.
It’s interesting to see what Gartner highlighted as the three most dominant trends in 2017. They were artificial intelligence everywhere, transparently immersive experiences and digital platforms. In addition, Gartner believes that the key platform-enabling technologies to look out for are 5G, digital twin, edge computing, blockchain, Internet of Things platforms, neuromorphic hardware, quantum computing, serverless Platform as a Service and software-defined security. It’s interesting to see how many of those we see appearing on mainframes already.
So it looks like the mainframe industry is getting its buzz back. And with that in mind, I can confidently predict that 2018 will be an interesting year, and that the mainframe will continue to offer outstanding performance and reliability, and be at the heart of the world’s business-critical applications.
Trevor Eddolls is CEO at iTech-Ed Ltd, an IT consultancy. A popular speaker and blogger, he currently chairs the Virtual IMS and Virtual CICS user groups. He’s editorial director for the Arcati Mainframe Yearbook, and was an IBM Champion between 2009 and 2016.