Sunday, 12 September 2021

Mainframe chips with everything!


If you were IBM and you were deciding where to focus for your next mainframe chip, what would you’re thinking be? There’s security, which is a massive issue everywhere. The 17th “Cost of a Data Breach Report”, researched by the Ponemon Institute for IBM found that the average cost for a data breach rose from $3.86 million last year to $4.24 million this year. A data breach in the USA averaged at $9.05 million per incident. For breaches between 50 million and 65 million records (mega breaches), the average cost was $401 million. And the average time to detect and contain a data breach was 287 days – 212 days to detect a breach and 75 days to contain it. IBM has been producing chips focused on security for a number of years.

A second big focus for computing is the cloud, but IBM can’t produce cloud chips.

So, where is the next major focus? The answer is Artificial Intelligence (AI), and, in a way, it still links back to security.

IBM’s new chip, which is called Telum, come with a new architecture designed to handle AI workloads faster, which, as a consequence, provides improved security and fraud detection for mainframes used by financial services organizations such as banks and insurance companies.

Announced at the Hot Chips conference in August, the Telum processors contain on-chip acceleration for AI inferencing while transactions are taking place. Traditionally, data needed to be moved for inferencing to take place. However, with the Telum processors, the accelerator is positioned closer to the data and applications so users can carry out high-volume inferencing for real-time transactions without calling on off-platform AI functions. And that’s what makes the process so fast. That’s what will allow financial institutions to move from a fraud detection posture to a fraud prevention posture.

Let’s take a look at the details. IBM has already been developing the chip for three years, and it’s expected to see the light of day in the first half of next year in the new IBM mainframes that are expected to be announced then.

The chip has a centralized design, allowing users to accelerate credit approval processes and identify trades and transactions likely to fail, and enhance rules-based fraud detection, loan processing, clearing and settlement of trades, anti-money laundering, and risk analysis, according to the IBM.

The 7-nanometer chip has a dual chip module design containing 22 billion transistors and was created by the IBM Research AI Hardware Center. Samsung will manufacture the processor, which contains 8 processor cores with a deep super-scalar out-of-order instruction pipeline, running with more than 5GHz clock frequency, optimized for the demands of heterogenous enterprise class workloads.

IBM explained that: “The completely redesigned cache and chip-interconnection infrastructure provides 32MB cache per core, and can scale to 32 Telum chips. The dual-chip module design contains 22 billion transistors and 19 miles of wire on 17 metal layers.”

AI workloads have higher computational requirements and operate on large quantities of data. For this to work successfully, the CPU and AI core need to be integrated on the same chip for low-latency AI inference, which is what Telum does.

“We see Telum as the next major step on a path for our processor technology, like previously the inventions of the mainframe and servers”, says a blog post by IBM’s AI Hardware Center. “The challenges facing businesses around the world keep getting more complex, and Telum will help solve these problems for years to come.”

Christian Jacobi, an IBM distinguished engineer and chief architect for IBM Z processor design, explained that the new on-chip AI accelerator achieves a 40% gain in performance at the socket level, which means every socket in the new processor, compared with processor sockets in the existing z15, performs up to 40% more work.

This additional speed is achieved by adding more cores and larger caches. Jacobi added that IBM will further optimize the firmware and software stack that is going to run on the next generation of mainframes.

So, something to look forward to next year. A chip that focuses on AI and also helps with security. And, according to Barry Baker, IBM’s vice president of product management for IBM Z & LinuxONE, as users open up their systems “to hybrid cloud, they need to modernize their application data estate. The things we’re doing down at the silicon level accelerate and are aligned with that overarching strategy. There’s a lot of work we do on a regular basis with partners to help enable that.”

Telum is a new chip that seems to tick all the boxes.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Why being an IBM Champion is hard!


Working within the mainframe industry is a great way to spend your day. The technology is interesting, and the people who understand it are interesting. And being recognized as an IBM Champion is a great accolade. IBM said: “On behalf of IBM, it is my great pleasure to recognize you as a returning IBM Champion in 2021. Congratulations! We would like to thank you for your continued leadership and contributions to the IBM technology community. This recognition is awarded based on your contributions for the 2020 calendar year.” I’ve been a Champion since 2009.

So, if the industry is great and the people are great, and I’m being recognized by my peers for my work, why am I suggesting that being an IBM Champion is hard? The answer is simply that it’s everyone outside the mainframe world who make life hard. For them, the mainframe is a legacy system (and not in the nice sense of receiving a bequest from some rich old uncle that you hardly ever met) that one day soon will completely disappear off the face of the Earth – and, in the meantime, it’s really strange that anyone should still be using them.

Now, I know that if you read the works of some self-help guru, they will tell you to be positive. And that positive people are happier and get the most out of life. And in many ways that’s true, but at the same time, it’s important to spend some time (and definitely not most of your time) looking at what might go wrong, or, perhaps, what would be better if it were different. And that’s roughly how I spend my time talking and writing about the mainframe. I look at the positive aspects about it – and I also highlight areas where I think it could be even better. What I don’t ever think is that mainframes should go away any time soon.

And that’s why I was concerned about PCI compliance on mainframes. This is all to do with mainframes that take credit card payments – and, according to IBM, 44 of the top 50 banks in the USA use IBM mainframes. Section 10.5.5 of the PCI regulations asks: “Is file-integrity monitoring or change-detection software used on logs to ensure that existing log data cannot be changed without generating alerts (although new data being added should not cause an alert)?”. And section 11.5 asks: “Is a change-detection mechanism (for example, file-integrity monitoring tools) deployed to detect unauthorized modification (including changes, additions, and deletions) of critical system files, configuration files, or content files?”.  

As I wrote in a previous blog, to be PCI compliant, mainframes would need to be running File Integrity Monitoring (FIM) software on their mainframe – and most of them aren’t. In addition, someone in the company, the CEO, CFO, even the CIO, will, each year, will be signing off the section 3 PCI validation form saying that they are. These execs may be convinced that there are ‘compensating controls’ being used, which there probably aren’t. Or they may consider their mainframe to be ‘out of scope’, which it probably isn’t.

So, what makes life hard is that when the finance industry press became aware of this situation, rather than highlighting the problem for their CFO to investigate and make changes to what was happening at their organization, the article used a headline making it look like it was only a problem for those last remaining companies that were “still using mainframes”. As we saw from the IBM figures, that would be 88 percent of banks. That’s a bit like referring to people who still travel by car, or who still use a laptop! It’s not some tiny minority, it’s the majority!

I once described it to a colleague as being like King Canute (Knut) who tried to tell the tide to go out when it was coming in. It sometimes seems like everyone is thinking one way and I, like the king, are thinking differently. It’s said that Knut knew he couldn’t control the incoming tide. However, I don’t have the king’s wisdom – I still strongly believe in the future of the mainframe. I’m just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with my way of thinking. Perhaps I have more in common with Richard Doll, who, in 1948, published a study proving that smoking could cause serious health damage. Or Alfred Wegener, who, in 1915, came up with the idea of plate tectonics and continental drift.

I’m not saying that people are prejudiced against mainframes – nothing so active. I think that the problem is that people generally don’t understand what a mainframe can do – and how powerfully it can do it. They tend to view it as a vintage 1918 biplane, when, stretching my aviation metaphor to its limits, it’s more like the latest stealth fighter. And, I think it’s the role of IBM Champions, like myself, to spread the word, not only about the power, the security features, and everything else that a mainframe can do, but also explain how Open Source tools make the mainframe accessible by people with skillsets usually associated with Windows and Linux, etc.

However, thinking about it again, being an IBM Champion isn’t all bad. IBM provides regular online meetings where experts discuss the latest technologies. And there are IBM Champion-badged items that Champions can choose from that are sent out every year. There are Champion discussion groups. And much more.

So, thinking about it, maybe being an IBM Champion isn’t that hard after all!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Mainframes and Open Source


Everyone knows that mainframes work differently from other computing platforms. And if you leave university with a degree in computing, you still won’t have a clue about how a mainframe works. Everyone knows you have to be at least 50 and prefer to work on a green screen to have the slightest idea of what’s going on inside your z/OS box.

Unfortunately, the highly prejudiced comments in that first paragraph are all too common amongst people – often execs and Windows users – who find it easier to trot out the usual anti-mainframe mantras than look at what’s really going on in the world of mainframes.

Firstly, mainframes and Linux have been in a relationship for a very long time. If you have expertise in Linux, you can work on a mainframe and get great work done. For example, Docker and Kubernetes can run easily on a mainframe using Linux

And, of course, there’s the idea that mainframes are islands of hardware that not only don’t talk to the cloud, but don’t even know that the rest of the world is using the cloud all the time. Again, the reality is that IBM is very keen on the use of cloud. They have Red Hat Open Shift and IBM Cloud. They offer Mainframe as a Service. There is so much cloud-related stuff going on that it just seems strange that some people aren’t aware of it.

What about the fact that mainframes have sixty (nearly) years of their own way of working, their own software, and their own practices that no-one else can use? That is true, but (and it’s a very big ‘but’) they also have all the things (pretty much) that non-mainframe platforms have. Java works on a mainframe! There are things like z/OSMF, VSCode, Zowe, and ZOAU, which enable developers with non-IBM Z backgrounds to work usefully on mainframes.

And picking up on that, there is the Open Mainframe Project (OMP), which is an open source initiative that enables collaboration across the mainframe community to develop shared tool sets and resources. And they are having their second annual Open Mainframe Summit digitally on 22-23 September.

The theme of this year’s Open Mainframe Summit expands beyond the mainframe to highlight influencers with strengths in the areas supporting or leveraging the technology like continuous delivery, edge computing, financial services, and open source. It will also highlight projects, diversity, and business topics that will offer seasoned professionals, developers, students, and leaders an opportunity to share best practices and network with like-minded individuals.

This year’s virtual event will feature keynote speakers Gabriele Columbro, Executive Director of Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS); Jason Shepherd, Vice President of Ecosystem at ZEDEDA and Chair of the LF Edge Governing Board; Jono Bacon, a leading community and collaboration speaker and founder of Jono Bacon Consulting; Steve Winslow, Vice President of Compliance and Legal at The Linux Foundation; Tracy Ragan, CEO and Co-Founder of DeployHub and Continuous Delivery Foundation Board Member, and more.

Conference sessions highlight projects, diversity, and business topics such as:

  • Mainframe Mavens: 5 Women to Know – Stacey Miller, Global Product Marketing Manager at SUSE and Yvette LaMar, Director of the IBM Z Influencer Ecosystem at IBM
  • The Facts about COBOL – Misty Decker, Product Marketing Director at Micro Focus; Derek Britton, Director of Communications and Brand Strategy at Micro Focus; and Cameron Seay, Adjunct Instructor at East Carolina University
  • Making Our Strong Community Stronger moderated by Dr. Gloria Chance, CEO at Mousai Group – Jeanne Glass, CEO and Founder of VirtualZ Computing; David Jeffries, Vice President of Development IBM z/OS Software at IBM; Greg Lotko, Broadcom; Andy Youniss, Rocket Software
  • ConsoleZ – Accessing z/VM Console Data from a Browser – Mike MacIsaac, Systems Programmer at ADP
  • Workflow wiZard: A Flexible Workflow Creation Tool for z/OSMF – Ray Cole, Product Architect at BMC Software
  • Feilong: The Open Source API for z/VM Automation – Mike Friesenegger, Solutions Architect at SUSE
  • Integrating Tessia for Self-Provisioning of Linux Distributions on Z – Alexander Efremkin, Tessia Architect, Linux Workload Enablement on IBM Z at IBM
  • Introducing ZEBRA - an Incubation Project for Zowe – Salisu Ali, Student at Bayero University Kano, Andrew Twydell, Intern at IBM and Alex Kim, Enterprise Solutions Architect at Vicom Infinity
  • DIY: Zowe Explorer Starter Kit – Jessielaine Punongbayan, Product Marketing Engineer at Broadcom and Richelle Anne Craw, Senior Software Engineer at Broadcom

With a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Open Mainframe Project worked closely with the CHAOSS Diversity & Inclusion Badging Program, which encourages events to obtain D&I badges for leadership, self-reflection, and self-improvement on issues critical to building the Internet as a social good. Open Mainframe Summit earned a Gold Badge for prioritizing diversity and inclusion.

If you’re interested, you can see the full conference schedule here. Conference Registration for the online event is $50 for general attendance and $15 for academia.

If you have an interest in Open Source software on the mainframe, or you just want to know more about what might be possible, then have a look on the Open Mainframe Project website.