IBM is unveiling its newest mainframes today, the single frame IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper II (LR1). I’d like to spend a few words explaining how uniquely interesting these machines are for industry solutions. These models are literally open. IBM’s partners and customers can now embed their own equipment within the single frame in order to craft a cohesive, physically (and of course logically) integrated solution for practically any use cases.

IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM Rockhopper II machines are based on a new, smaller 19 inch frame design, similar to the IBM DS8880 series of storage units. If you order an IBM z14 ZR1 or IBM Rockhopper II with Feature Code 0617, then IBM reserves 16U of rack space within the machine frame. You can then place just about anything you like inside that reserved space using industry standard size components. If you order IBM’s 1U (rack mountable) Hardware Management Console (HMC) and/or Trusted Key Entry (TKE) Workstation, IBM’s installation team can install that equipment inside the 16U of reserved space if you wish. Just tell the IBM installation team if you want to consume a little bit of that space with the HMC and/or TKE Workstation, as you prefer. Then it’s up to you and your imagination to spend the rest.

I recommend you fill that space with equipment that has two characteristics. First, it should be equipment that has a close, vital affinity with the IBM Z or LinuxONE machine itself from an industry solution point of view. Second, there should be some real solution value in achieving a smaller footprint. For example, you might create an IBM Z or LinuxONE “trading platform in a box” that is physically co-located in a data center near a financial trading exchange, where that frame is enclosed in its own security cage and where there’s some cost savings if you can reduce the number of frames and footprints.

IBM’s installation documentation explains the various rules in engineering terms, but I’ll highlight the not-so-surprising basics. Whatever equipment you install in that 16U of “fun space” should meet reasonable engineering standards. It shouldn’t be too heavy, and you should ordinarily install equipment from the bottom up (and the heaviest equipment at the bottom), to reduce the risk that the machine will tip over. Don’t install something that generates too much heat, or that incorporates liquids that could interfere with the machine’s humidity sensors, or that generates dust. No, despite the entertainment value, you shouldn’t install a coffee maker, microwave oven, or beer tap inside your IBM Z or Rockhopper II. Install your equipment such that the cooling airflow points in the same direction as the rest of the machine, and keep your cabling nice and tidy (and well labeled) along the sides so that airflow isn’t blocked. The concepts of “front” and “back” are important, especially if you expect a human operator to do something with the equipment you install, such as insert a USB flash drive into a USB socket. And you should give some consideration to any service interactions, putting the human accessed equipment lower rather than higher, weight and balance permitting. IBM installs several power outlets when you order Feature Code 0617, but you’ll want to check power consumption requirements to make sure you don’t exceed limits. And please respect the “boundaries” of your IBM Z or LinuxONE machine. Don’t try to plug equipment into IBM’s internal machine connectors. Stick with the public, published connections that IBM describes: OSA-Express (network), FICON Express (storage network), and (to a limited degree, such as for NTP-based external time reference) the HMC.

Now, let your imagination run wild! In no particular order, here are some examples of equipment that should be eligible to install inside your IBM z14 ZR1 or IBM Rockhopper II:


  • z/OS compatible disk and flash storage, such as Visara’s FICON-attached Vi-8810L or IBM’s forthcoming/planned “mini” FICON-attached flash storage
  • Other disk and flash storage, such as the IBM Storwize V5030 and IBM FlashSystem 900
  • Optical storage, such as the PrimeArray ArrayStor
  • Rack mounted tape drives, small tape libraries, and small virtual tape libraries, from IBM and other vendors
  • Intel/AMD X86 servers, such as the Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630
  • IBM Power servers, such as the IBM Power AC922, S922, and S812 servers, optionally with NVIDIA GPUs and other features
  • Apple Mac mini (macOS) machines via Sonnet’s RackMac mini
  • Dust/ink free logging printers, such as iSys’s V8.5e
  • Equipment that provides various I/O ports, such as USB-A, USB-C, Thunderbolt, serial, analog to digital interfaces, etc.
  • Equipment that provides “legacy” I/O connections, such as the Optica PRIZM (for ESCON, and for Bus/Tag with the ESBT option) and SecureAgent’s IDG9074 (for coax)
  • Specialized security devices, such as hardware security modules (HSMs) from Thales and others (but note that IBM’s CryptoExpress HSMs are installed in the I/O drawers and do not occupy any rack space), IBM Guardium, and IBM QRadar appliances
  • Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers and other time synchronization equipment
  • Network infrastructure (load balancers, firewalls, routers, switches, telecommunications and satellite interfaces, DWDM, etc.)
  • “Exotic” processing elements such as GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs, and ARM CPUs
  • Various appliances, such as the IBM MessageSight appliance
  • Batteries for power protection (although be careful about this, since some battery technologies would be inappropriate)
  • Horns, sirens, and LED message panels (!)

Keep in mind that 16U isn’t a tremendous amount of physical space, so spend it wisely. In general, if the IBM Z (or LinuxONE) parts of the machine can handle particular tasks without adding equipment within that 16U of space, then do so. And even if you can’t quite shrink your industry solution down to one frame, that 16U of space might still help you reduce the number of physical frames from three to two — for example, if you’re pairing an IBM z14 ZR1 with a full frame IBM DS8880. Also please be aware that, for the time being anyway, Feature Code 0617 is irrevocable. That means your IBM z14 ZR1 or Rockhopper II with Feature Code 0617 will support up to 32 feature adapters, not up to 64. That’s still a great deal of expandability, with room for lots of I/O ports and CryptoExpress features, but please be aware of that difference.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about all these new, physically smaller IBM Z and LinuxONE solution possibilities, whether you’re designing a “bank in a box,” a highly secure cryptocurrency exchange platform, a cloud “outpost,” a secure DevOps environment for a remote development team (complete with build support for the Apple ecosystem!), an industrial control system (for factories, power plants, transport hubs, traffic control, emergency services, etc.), some super spooky national security apparatus, or any other interesting industry solutions. Now you can build unique, highly secure solutions, literally within a single frame, and with the very best qualities of service (QoS). Give IBM a holler if you need help designing your fun-frame.

(Updated below.) How would you like to run real, licensed z/OS and various middleware products such as CICS, DB2, MQ, IMS, WebSphere Application Server, plus lots of compilers, tools, etc? You can with the IBM Z Development & Test Environment, and you can do it all on your Linux laptop or PC.

IBM licenses ZD&T (with real z/OS and other software products that accompany z/OS) or demonstrations (such as at a trade show or user group), development, testing (with caveats), and education. Definitely not for production or performance testing. Please read the license “fine print” for details on permitted uses. And ZD&T is not free.

Here are the “secret codes” you’ll need, at this writing. First, you’ll need a USB attached hardware key, affectionately known as a “dongle.” The dongle is IBM Passport Advantage part number BT0PEML, and its current list price is US$144. Then, assuming it’s just you (one user, i.e. ZD&T “Personal Edition”), you’ve got a choice. You can either buy a 12 month fixed term license (part number D0M21LL, US$4,780) or a perpetual license (part number D0M1VLL, US$10,200). When the time comes to renew your term license (and maintenance) for another year you’d use part number E0D6GLL, US$4,780 current list price), or to renew the maintenance on your perpetual license for another year (the first year is included with the license) you’d use part number E0D6CLL, US$2,030 current list price). Maintenance means IBM Subscription and Support. Subscription means you’re able to download new software releases (including new z/OS, middleware, compiler, and tool releases), and Support means you’re able to call up (or electronically contact) IBM for help with ZD&T. (No, you very likely won’t be able to call in a “Severity 1” IMS problem incident, for example.)

If you’ve got a club of mainframe enthusiasts and want to band together to share a Linux server running ZD&T (and real z/OS), you can do that with “Resource Value Unit” (RVU) licensing. License quantity one (one RVU) means that you can configure ZD&T to use one X86 core (on your multi-core X86 machine) to emulate a Z processor. ZD&T is never suitable for performance testing, but one X86 core’s worth of emulation is enough for many purposes, even for a club. So start with that minimum and see how it goes. If the club wants to increase that number, that’s always possible. If you’ve got 5 people or more in your club, the RVU licensing is less expensive, assuming you’re all happy with one RVU.

You can sometimes get selective free access to z/OS via the IBM Z Trial Program and the Master the Mainframe Contest, as examples. But if you’d like your own personal (or club) mainframe, and if you’re OK living within the usage limits, ZD&T is fantastic.

Update: There are at least three other options for getting your own real z/OS environment: ZPDT, ZRDP, and (oddly enough) a real IBM Z machine. ZPDT and ZRDP are available to IBM PartnerWorld members. As for the real IBM Z machine option, to do that you (or a club?) would buy a real system such as an IBM zBC12 or z13s (purchased at auction, perhaps) with some ECKD disk. You’d then license z/OS (Base, DFSMSdsshsm, RMF, SDSF, Security Server, and C/C++ let’s suppose) from IBM under standard ZNALC commercial terms (get approval from IBM first!), and you’d configure your machine with a 3 MSU softcap across all your z/OS LPARs. You’d also send IBM your SCRT reports every month. Do all that and you’d pay about $153/month (2017 U.S. pricing) for z/OS, nicely equipped. If all you need is real z/OS, if your z/OS use qualifies for ZNALC (probably), and if IBM trusts you enough to do business with you (mostly that you’ll pay your monthly bills reliably), yes, you can do this.

Posted in IBM.

After looking through IBM’s announcements and others’ reactions to them, let’s take a look at some of the “hidden technical gems” that might not yet be receiving fair attention. In no particular order:

  • IBM and Splunk are working together more closely so that Splunk shops can easily incorporate mainframe-generated data into their operational analytics. The key enabler is IBM’s Common Data Provider for Z.
  • It’s now possible to license z/VM and related products one engine at a time, in sub-capacity form. For example, you can add one z/VM engine and create a z/OS private cloud so developers (among others) can spin up/down their own z/OS instances. Sub-capacity z/VM licensing also applies to Linux and IFLs, of course, and that offers some greater flexibility if you want to have “anchor tenant” Linux LPARs alongside Linux guests on z/VM. z/VM sub-capacity licensing is also useful if you’ve still got some lagging operating system that starts up in ESA/390 mode. The IBM z14 doesn’t support ESA/390 IPL, but z/VM offers a possible workaround (SET MACH ESA) in certain cases, notably for unsupported z/VSE Version 4.
  • IBM instantly released open source patches to support the IBM z14, including patches for the LLVM Clang compiler stack.
  • IBM’s redbook, IBM z14 Technical Introduction, contains a lot of useful details. (A special shout out to Esra Ufacik, one of the authors and a teammate, for her hard work on that book.)
  • There’s been plenty of buzz about the pervasive encryption capabilities in the IBM z14, and rightly so. However, there are lots of other security improvements that are well worth implementing. As a notable example, the Hardware Management Console (HMC) has some beefed up security attributes, including support for multi-factor authentication. The HMC has been available in 1U rack mount form for a while, and that’s handy. If you’re placing a z14 order this’d be a good time to get some new HMCs to pick up the security improvements, too. I believe you can also order new HMCs separately for z13, z13s, and LinuxONE machines if you wish, perhaps in anticipation of a machine order or model upgrade, since the updated HMC works with those models, too.
  • IBM has taken a couple steps to make the z14 at home in a wider variety of data centers. The z14 now shares the z13s’s environmental rating, to tolerate a wider temperature range and potentially save even more on cooling costs. You can also order a z14 with flat doors if you prefer a slimmer machine profile, although the acoustic doors are still preferable if anybody will be in earshot for extended periods and if the rest of the data center is relatively quiet.
  • The IBM z14 is the last “high end” machine to support 100BASE-T Ethernet. Try to get all your physical network connections up to at least 1000BASE-T as soon as you reasonably can. The IBM z14 drops support for 2 Gb/s FICON and FCP storage device connections unless you upgrade (“MES”) a machine to z14 and carry forward FICONExpress8S adapters. And the z14 will be the last “high end” server to allow FICONExpress8S carry forward. The retirement of 2 Gb/s storage links is probably OK. IBM DS6000 (DS6800) Disk Storage supports a maximum of 2 Gb/s, but that particular combination (z14 plus DS6800) probably isn’t too common. The IBM 3592-J70 Tape Controller also tops out at 2 Gb/s, but I don’t think that’ll be common either. Anyway, it’s something to be aware of if you’ve got some now ancient storage devices lying about. You’re OK for now if you upgrade (MES), but it’s “last call” for these slower links.
  • There’s a tantalizing analytics-related “Statement of Direction” in IBM’s z14 announcement suggesting future delivery of a DB2 Analytics Accelerator “onboard,” on the IBM Z machine itself. IBM is careful to characterize this future option as a third option, in addition to the IDAA appliance (PureData System for Analytics) and cloud options.
Posted in IBM.