Tech Corner

Is the IBM z16 the Mainframe of the Future?

Mainframes often don’t get the same limelight as servers or personal computers, as they’re not a product for the masses. But for organizations that do need them, they’re very important. Capable of performing an enormous amount of computations, mainframes are just a few steps behind supercomputers. 

IBM, the tech juggernaut responsible for many innovations in computing, announced the z16 mainframe in early 2022 with all the bells and whistles. While the Z series mainframes have performed exceptionally, z16 takes things to the next level. 

As expected, IBM designed the mainframes to handle artificial intelligence (AI) tasks, powered by an integrated on-chip AI accelerator. But that’s not all, as this mainframe also has many other notable features that arguably make it the most advanced mainframe in the z series. 

In this article, we will provide the following:

  • An outline of the key features of the IBM z16 mainframe. 
  • A sneak peek into what it can or can’t do for enterprises looking to tap into AI.
  • A look at the bottom line of what you need to know.

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The IBM Telum Processor and Embedded AI Accelerator

IBM introduced the Telum processor in 2021, and the z16 mainframe is based on it. It’s an advanced processor with markedly superior performance than its predecessor, the z15 processor. 

The IBM Telum processor is a dual-chip module processor with 16 cores, capable of running at 5.2 or 4.6 GHz. 

What makes the Telum processor unique is that it has an embedded AI accelerator. The processor can facilitate AI workloads like inference in real time. 

With the accelerator embedded in the processor, it shares the memory and has direct access to everything it needs, such as model input parameters and model for computation. It’s a game-changer, as most AI accelerators are standalone, connected to the cores through PCI buses. 

This embedded AI accelerator aims to reduce latency in inference and make transaction analysis easy at scale. It makes this mainframe an ideal choice for mission-critical workloads, including, for example, financial transactions. 

In terms of numbers, the accelerator can handle over 300 billion inference requests daily with a mere one millisecond latency. 

IBM claims that its z16 mainframe is 20 times faster than most x86 cloud servers, which is impressive. The network latency is reportedly 60 milliseconds. 

Besides inference, the mainframe leverages AI with SQL Data Insights. It’s an analytical feature that uses intelligence to discover hidden links between transactions. It builds upon existing database technologies and can do the job a highly trained data scientist usually does. 

The use case of this particular feature is detecting problematic, illegal transactions. With regulations becoming more stringent, banks may find this mainframe to bolster their efforts at detecting money laundering activities. 

Resilience and Redundancy

The IBM z16, by design, is both resilient and redundant. However, IBM has taken it to the next level by introducing Flexible Capacity, which fully allows z16 users to automate site swaps with another z16 environment. The swap takes place in seconds, and customers can perform up to 12 (six round trip) swaps. 

In addition to this feature, IBM introduced the IBM Z Security and Compliance Center. This product aims to ensure compliance with data security and privacy regulations, such as PCI DSS and NIST 853. It collects and validates data against controls that ensure everything is up to code. 

Users will have the solution in the form of a centralized dashboard that provides and simplifies compliance information. 

First Quantum-Safe Mainframe

While the embedded AI accelerator is a distinguished feat of the z16, what’s even more revolutionary is that it’s the first quantum-safe system by IBM claiming to provide quantum protections. 

With this particular feature, IBM has essentially made the mainframe future-proof, preparing it for possible threats in the future. 

The quantum-safe technology exists in the firmware layers that activate during the boot process. It’s the first-of-its-kind system that leverages quantum-safe cryptography to encrypt data. 

But what does quantum-safe mean? It’s the idea that attackers can harvest data today and use a quantum computer to decrypt it if and when it's available. Quantum computers may solve complex mathematical problems and crack the encryption technologies most of the world relies on to protect data. 

The component enabling this capability of the z16 is the IBM Hardware Security Module (HSM), which provides quantum-safe APIs. 

Integration With DevOps Tools

IBM recognizes that enterprises want solutions that readily integrate DevOps tools. The z16 mainframe enables continuous integration/delivery through various tools, such as Git workflows, Instana, IBM’s own Application Discovery and Delivery Intelligence, and IBM Z and Cloud Modernization Stack. 

The IBM Z Cloud and Modernization stack contains standard industry tools for development and provisioning. With this offering, DevOps engineers can seamlessly connect with the hybrid cloud environments, decreasing the time to provisions and making management smooth. 

Less Tedious Installation

The IBM z16 mainframe is rack-mountable, making it easier for enterprises to install the infrastructure in existing racks. Unlike mainframes of the past, it’s not bulky and can easily coexist with other equipment in the data center. 

Enterprises can use their racks as per their needs, whether cooling or security-related.

The Bottom Line

IBM z16 is arguably the company’s most advanced and capable mainframe, ideal for enterprises looking to leverage AI. It’s truly modern, both in terms of design and technical features, especially the quantum-safe booting process that’s helping protect data from possible threats in the near future. 

It’s a giant leap from the predecessor, z15, with enhanced performance and more integrations with technologies that facilitate DevOps. Developers can easily deploy features and leverage seamless public or private cloud connections. 

More importantly, with the z16 mainframe, IBM has implemented customer feedback using the Z series mainframes. 

Interested in IBM’s enterprise hardware solutions? Learn how PivIT can help procure the best equipment for your enterprise while keeping your CapEx in check!

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