IBM Widens Its z15 and LinuxOne III Portfolio

But will the new additions make the right difference?

Cometh the hour, cometh the mainframe. It’s a fitting epithet to address the state of play in these pressing times of Covid-19 lockdown and the increased demands on key workload operations and transactions.

On 14 April, IBM announced two additional models to its IBM Z portfolio that will reach general availability on 15 May 2020, extending its successful z15 and LinuxOne III product lines.

With the launch of IBM z15 T02, LinuxOne III LT2 and IBM Secure Execution for Linux, as IBM said in its announcement, the company is introducing “two new single frame, air-cooled platforms designed to build on the capabilities of z15, and a new offering designed to help protect from internal and external threats across the hybrid cloud”.

When the hour has come in the form of a global pandemic, are the latest additions to the IBM Z mainframe portfolio capable of rising to the operational demands the climate dictates? Are they the “hero systems” that have stepped forth?

Enterprise Benefits for the Mid-Market


The z15 T02 and LinuxOne III LT2 are mid-range offerings that pack a powerful set of capabilities when it comes to selecting a trusted workhorse for hybrid operations. Through a combination of design thinking and client participation, IBM has evolved its Z portfolio to directly tackle the operating challenges and aspirational goals of organizations looking to transform their core infrastructure to meet the demands of a digital and hybrid IT future.

The performance characteristics of the hardware work together with the sophistication and reach of security and data privacy features, supported by highly tuned storage technologies, to maximize capacity and scale while improving the economics of operations, management and maintenance.

Looking through the attractive list of features it’s hard not to be impressed by what both product lines offer. More importantly, their parent enterprise platforms, launched in September 2019, are clearly being well-received for continued investment, judging from the 16% revenue boost that IBM’s Systems business line posted in 4Q19. The broad range of early customer testimonials pinpointing specific benefits achieved — from system consolidation, encryption everywhere, compression, workload growth, to instant system recovery and energy savings — reinforces IBM’s determination to maintain the steadfast position of its IBM Z range as a core infrastructure technology for mission-critical operations.

Important Platform Attributes Simplify the Path to Transformation


In April 1964, IBM launched the IBM System/360, the predecessor to IBM Z, auspiciously advertising it as the computer for the future. Fast-forward to the same month 56 years later and it seems that the company is more than capable of subliminal marketing theatrics with the launch of the latest additions to its IBM Z family of mainframe products.

Given the breadth of hardware performance and operational features and the extensive software support, this isn’t the place for detailed examination. A CCS Insight report titled IBM LinuxOne — Infrastructure to Drive Blockchain Progression provides a more detailed account of the core features and market benefits of the enterprise edition of the platform. Another report investigating the hybrid IT support capabilities of IBM Z examines in greater depth important characteristics of the enterprise version of z15. Contact us if you’d like access to the reports.

However, the two new mid-range solutions reinforce several noteworthy objectives that IBM has set out for the product lines, highlighted below, with features offering strategic and tactical value.

Flexibility is a core theme throughout but especially for the “tailored fit” pricing model introduced 18 months ago. This replaces the older four-hour rolling average model and loosens the growth constraints on an increasing number of clients (more than 60 at the time of the launch announcement).

Cloud-native development and operation are the gateways for truly maximizing the potential of the cloud model. IBM has rightly focussed on balancing the need to support cloud computing, which calls for a new approach to thinking, operations and architecture, and easing the process of adoption for customers. It’s here that IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat, with its widely adopted OpenShift container platform supported and deployed in multiple operating environments, underscores IBM Z’s hybrid IT narrative and opens its z/OS assets and data apps to cloud-native operations.

Orchestration is fast becoming an important differentiator for organizations looking to run cloud workloads. A smart move by IBM is the provision of a common orchestration layer through Red Hat’s OpenShift platform, along with certified implementation support through IBM Cloud Paks middleware services.

Sophisticated security and cyber-resiliency, in the form of end-to-end encryption with pervasive date privacy and protection for the lifetime of an asset — be that located internally or externally — highlight investments IBM has made to allay fears for the growing landscape of threats.

A Hard Time to Launch or the Right Time to Launch?


With almost every organization single-mindedly focussed on staying afloat as the Covid-19 global pandemic brings a significant slowdown in business operations, it can seem counter-intuitive to launch a new product, even if this is a mid-range edition of proven enterprise technology. But an alternative view is that the release of the solutions couldn’t be more keenly timed.

In this new climate of digital online presence, opportunities and risks abound in almost equal proportion. Greater scrutiny has come with the unprecedented sweeping move toward online operations, as companies worldwide have been forced to respond to lockdowns with remote working in the face of the pandemic’s progression.

Many of the cloud-based infrastructures and applications together with the underlying communication networks have risen to the occasion, coping extremely well with the staggering calls on bandwidth and operational performance. Collaboration platforms and video streaming services have highlighted the capacity requirements for digital operations. But the weak security and data privacy practices in several high-profile solutions have exposed vulnerabilities that a spectrum of hacker operations and threat agents have quickly exploited.

Mid-market operations with limited resources at every level — people, modern skills, space, money — still show a need for cloud support. And with this will come greater requirements for agility, scale, resilience, high usage, flexibility in pricing and capacity and, most of all, robust end-to-end security with pervasive encryption, data privacy and protection.

The new z15 T02 and LinuxOne III LT2 won’t make everyone’s shortlist when organizations begin to emerge from the ravages of the pandemic. But they can’t be easily dismissed, especially by those already invested in the IBM Z platform, given what’s on offer. In the post-pandemic world organizations will need to have plans and strategies to quickly digitally transform, and both offerings present a viable opportunity here.

Other Ingredients Are Needed beyond Good Technology


Despite the fanfare that accompanied the launch of two powerful and increasingly accessible mainframe platforms, their release comes at a time of heightened focus on IBM Z’s capabilities in meeting workloads where older versions of the mainframe have been deployed.

Seen in a different light, the hero system required is one built on several solid foundations: hardware and software technologies, people, processes and tools. No technology, legacy or otherwise, can meet the operational needs of unprecedented scale-up if equal levels of investment haven’t been made in business change requirements.

There’s a danger in simply relying heavily on a technology platform that hums along quietly in the background, no matter how efficient and effectively it operates. If organizations give no additional thought to future modernization or fail to continually explore and assess internal and external growth opportunities while shining a light on potential risks, they can’t be surprised if they get caught out when sudden change happens.

IBM’s Z portfolio is no longer your grandparents’ mainframe; not even your parents’. For the new workforce generation used to an ecosystem of open collaboration and development and delivery tooling support, IBM has done much to refresh its mainframe platform, enabling it to directly operate and support many commonly adopted tools and application services. The 108-year-old behemoth has shown that it, too, can employ the tactics of market disruptors. It has worked closely with more than 430 customers spanning 17 user personas to develop attractive features and performance attributes for secure hybrid IT operations.

Evolution and Adaptation of a Core Application System for Hybrid IT


The company’s evolutionary staying power must surely frustrate IBM’s hyperscale cloud rivals. Efforts to ramp up the rhetoric of IBM Z’s mainframe credentials with negative legacy connotation, detracting from the platform’s capability for modern operations suggest some rivals are indeed rattled.

A reality facing the market, backed by our research and that of others, is that as much as 80% of core application workloads and infrastructure operations delivering mission-critical services live in on-premises systems behind the company firewall. That IBM’s Z systems are often the core infrastructure platform underpinning business-critical operations is the impetus driving IBM’s positioning of the product line for hybrid IT operations.

New and existing customers, already used to working in hybrid IT environments with multiple solutions and systems, recognize the complexity that can arise, but don’t want the disruption and loss of productivity that might come from a wholesale rip-and-replace project.

Many organizations are looking for the flexibility of applying existing core infrastructure investments into new operational models such as those based on cloud platforms. They don’t want to be hampered in their acquisition and use of the various combinations of cloud application and operational services, from the myriad as-a-service offerings to the different cloud delivery models spanning multiple, public, private and hybrid cloud systems. What companies want is consistency in operation and management with consistent security, privacy, resiliency and visibility for all interacting environments. In this regard, IBM’s strategic direction for its IBM Z portfolio is well-placed.