Last week IBM held a “Mainframe 50” birthday celebration in New York City. While I wasn’t able to attend in person, I watched the live stream in its entirety along with thousands of others. If you’re interested in enterprise IT architecture and its future, I recommend watching at least some of the broadcast, particularly John Kelly’s (IBM Research’s) glimpse into the future.

There were a few bits I disliked, so let’s get those out of the way:

1. The event started at 2:00 a.m. in Singapore on April 9, 2014. No, you can’t please everyone, but 2:00 p.m. New York time on April 8, 2014, was a puzzling choice to celebrate the 50th birthday of the IBM mainframe, announced on April 7, 1964. (Never mind that IBM didn’t actually ship its first System/360 machines to customers until about 12 months later in 1965.) Thank goodness for replays so that I could pay closer attention to the details.

2. I wish I could have learned a bit more about why and how IBM’s zEnterprise is helping to fight the transmission of HIV from mothers to newborns in Africa.

3. With one significant exception I discuss below, I thought IBM could have had better product announcements to discuss at the 50th birthday party.

4. There were too many apologies and near apologies about age. In particular, there is no meaningful analogy to draw between 50 years of lineal mainframe application compatibility — an information technology and business triumph! — and the age of a human being. I would have drawn contrasts in any such attempted comparisons, not parallels. The fundamental financial industry business process rules concerning debits and credits are timeless and have no relationship to human lifespans. We’re all mortal, but application platforms supporting mission-critical core enterprise business processes based on timeless, foundational principles ought not be mortal. Big difference!

Those quibbles aside, I liked (a lot):

1. The customers. As is often the case, the customers brilliantly outshone IBM. Rightly so. I was seriously impressed when Anthony DiSanto described how (and why), within 6 months, Citibank replaced all the mainframes they had everywhere in the world — and they had/have many — with brand new mainframes, and with nobody having any idea when they did the work. “I can’t replace one blade server in 6 months,” he said, closely paraphrasing. Great point. Citi routinely performs heart and lung replacement surgery while the patient (their bank) runs its marathon, metaphorically speaking. It’s still an amazing feat I regard with a mixture of awe and admiration, and it’s what mainframes (and their people) do superbly and routinely. DiSanto also revealed that Citi is working with IBM on a “Bank in a Box.” Jim McCarthy from Visa and the other featured customers were also great. More, please.

2. The future of mainframe technology. John Kelly handled most of that mission. When you take a look at the video, take a close look at the chart Kelly showed with several cutting edge technologies specifically named. He also spent a major part of his talk explaining how past and current IT architectural practices involving extracting and moving data to processing are increasingly not viable. They simply don’t scale, especially when trying to solve many “Big Data” problems, securely. They never will given the surge in data volumes and the limits of physics. The common thread is that IBM is redoubling its efforts to move the processing to the information rather than the other way around, and the ultimate expression of that design philosophy is the IBM zEnterprise and its future iterations. Consequently most of the cutting edge and future technologies he listed on that #1 most important chart relate to continuing, significantly improved deliveries based on that core design philosophy. I think he’s spot on.

3. Relatedly, IBM announced (or highlighted?) Veristorm’s zDoop, i.e. Hadoop for Linux on zEnterprise. zDoop is a specific example of IBM’s vision, and it’s here now. In my view zDoop was the most important product-related announcement at “Mainframe 50.”

4. Hello, Africa! It’s obvious from “Mainframe 50” that IBM is investing heavily in Africa and that zEnterprise infrastructure will figure prominently. I think that’s smart. It’s presently difficult to do business in Africa, and one has to be extremely patient, working diligently with businesses and governments over extremely long timescales. Africa’s development story is only just beginning, and it will take many decades to unfold. Africa is a good fit for IBM and for zEnterprise in many respects. If you’re considering an internationally oriented enterprise IT career, at least don’t rule out Africa as a place to spend some time developing and sharing skills.

Overall, well done, IBM. I’m definitely looking forward to the next 50 years, and I intend to be walking on this planet to the 100th birthday party.

[There were a couple people who didn’t get the joke — and many, many who did. For those who missed it, this post appeared on April 1.]

Happy New Mainframe Day, everyone! It’s always an exciting day when IBM introduces a new mainframe model, and today IBM’s engineers have really outdone themselves. It’s a huge surprise. Nobody expected a new mainframe model in April, 2014, but since this month is the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM System/360, why not? Here are some of the highlights:

1. IBM’s latest and newest machine, announced today, is the zEnterprise XC1313 (or zXC1313 for short). IBM isn’t saying explicitly, but my sources tell me that the XC refers to “eXtreme Cloud,” and the 1313 refers to the number of physical cores inside a single machine. (More on that in a moment.) IBM describes this machine as best exemplifying “the world’s loftiest cloud available for enterprise cloud-centric, cloud computing-oriented, extreme cloud environments.”

2. Holy sh**, look at the cloud speed! The previous record holder was IBM’s own zEC12 at an industry leading 5.5 GHz. This machine clocks in at a jaw dropping 6.66 GHz. That’s 6.66 GHz continuous, round the clock. To achieve this unprecedented clock speed parts of the machine are carved from diamond, literally. There are more diamonds in one zXC1313 than in an average De Beers vault. Also, IBM had to shorten the wiring between processor components, so the designers incorporated new “club sandwich” chip stacking architecture. I leave it to you to decide which parts are bacon, lettuce, and tomato. My sources tell me no there’s no mayonnaise in this model, but that might be a future innovation if they can figure out how to spread the mayo at nanometer levels of precision.

3. The zXC1313 allows customers to configure up to 513 cores in practically any desired combination, not counting the spares (increased to a mandatory minimum 4), SAPs, integrated firmware, and other “reserve” cores. IBM has introduced new 2XX and 3XX sub-capacity general purpose processor configurations to provide greater configuration flexibility, and PCI ratings (“MIPS”) now range from 113 (a bit more than twice the zBC12’s minimum) all the way up to well over 250,000. The exact maximum PCI figure is still being calculated at this writing, according to my reliable sources, though a major German software vendor (not SAP) has already announced they’ll be relying on Gartner’s MIPS figure of 298,682 unless Cheryl Watson publishes an even higher number. Clock speed and the 5X increase in the number of cores account for much but not all of the capacity improvement.

4. A substantial amount of performance improvement is related to the 44 new processor instructions IBM added to this model — incidentally a lucky number throughout Asia. Among the new instructions are CICX and IMSX. CICX is a single instruction that can perform the work of an entire CICS transaction, and likewise IMSX does the same for certain IMS transactions. An IBM press release quotes a pilot customer, State Bank of India, as being able to run an average of 48% of their banking transactions (by volume) in the form of that single CICX processor instruction. I haven’t been able to review the 238 pages in IBM’s updated “Principles of Operation” describing CICX (and the 241 pages describing IMSX) yet, but I expect to do that over the next few days. C/C++, Java, Enterprise PL/I, Assembler, and FORTRAN compiler support for the new CICX and IMSX instructions will be generally available later this month. No word yet on Enterprise COBOL exploitation.

5. The zXC1313 now supports a maximum of 61 LPARs (partitions). That’s up. Simultaneously IBM announced z/VM Version 7, exclusively available for the zXC1313 (and presumably successor models), if you want to divide up your machine further.

6. Yes, there’s a “technology dividend.” IBM says that for the average customer it’ll be like getting the 13th month free every year. Who says IBM doesn’t have a sense of humor?

7. Memory, memory, memory, memory. Now you can have up to 4 TB of usable RAIM-protected memory, less a reserved 32 GB high storage area (HSA). Luckily that’s up, too.

8. The physical packaging is a bit different this time around. The base configuration is equivalent in physical size and other data center considerations to the zEC12, and that base size spans up to 244 cores. To get up to the 513 core maximum IBM adds an expansion frame making the total machine about 50% larger than the zEC12. The expansion frame is available in attractive, contrasting cabinet colors selected by the world famous Italian fashion designers Dolce and Gabbana. For the first time ever one of the available “colors” is “Diamante Trasparente” (transparent diamond), meaning you can see through the case to observe all the parts inside. None of those parts actually move — at least they’re not supposed to — but Sig. Gabbana thought it was a good idea.

9. In keeping with the 50th anniversary spirit, as a limited time promotion IBM is offering specially priced direct model upgrades to the zXC1313 from nearly all System/360, System/370, System/390, zSeries, System z, zEnterprise, and even “compatible” mainframes such as those from Amdahl and Hitachi. Yes, even the IBM PC XT/370 qualifies. IBM will swap as many parts as required to bring your older machine up to zXC1313 specification. Rumor has it that IBM field engineers are being trained now to operate on-site gold smelting equipment. There are three model exceptions, though: customers with IBM System/360 Models 60, 62, and 70 are not eligible to participate in the direct upgrade promotion.

10. Sure enough, there are no more zAAPs. zIIPs have taken over, as IBM said would happen. HP’s printer ink division has filed a lawsuit against IBM in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas alleging interference in the consumption of printer ink as a consequence of the retirement of zAAPs (and associated documentation), but IBM says the lawsuit is without merit. IBM’s lead counsel says that IBM will demonstrate that the letter I, not the letter A, has been a favored part of IBM corporate naming for decades, predating the introduction of the first System/360.

It’s a great day to be alive — er, living — isn’t it?

Posted in IBM.