IBM upgrades its Big Iron OS for better cloud, security, and AI support

IBM's latest version of z/OS addresses easier provisioning and embraces Linux applications and utilities.

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IBM continues to fine-tune its mainframe to keep it attractive to enterprise users interested in keeping the Big Iron in their cloud and AI-application development plans.

The company released a new version of the mainframe operating system—z/OS V2.5—that includes beefed-up support for containers, AI, and security.

According to IBM, applications are at the heart of transactional and batch workloads running on z/OS. Fundamentally, developing new applications while modernizing existing applications is part of the digital transformation occurring in many enterprises.

New features in the OS include Cloud Provisioning and Management for z/OS that lets customers provision a new z/OS system from scratch.

“Traditionally, the process of deploying a new z/OS system in an IBM Z LPAR [logical partition] has been a complex and arduous process that requires the skill of an experienced system programmer,” IBM stated. “As a result, some clients might delay creating new z/OS systems, which can impact their DevOps agility and processes.”

In z/OS V2.5, Cloud Provisioning and Management provides a set of templates designed to make it easier to provision and deprovision z/OS systems. By selecting a z/OS provisioning template from the IBM Cloud Provisioning software services catalog, an early tenure system programmer can provision a new instance of z/OS in in less than one hour, compared with the days or weeks it has taken in the past.

Some other new features include:

  • Support for z/OS Container Extensions (zCX) to let customers integrate Linux applications and utilities into z/OS. This capability enables Linux on Z application code to run on z/OS unmodified. Software available includes open source, customer-written, IBM product, and third-party vendor software. A project at the Open Mainframe Project called Ambitus is creating a community around Linux on Z software.
  • Improved enterprise modernization with improved COBOL-Java interoperability. This gives application developers full application transparency by extending application-programming models.
  • Support for improved cloud storage capabilities. z/OS use of cloud storage is designed to reduce capital and operating expenses with data transfer to hybrid-cloud storage environments for simplified data archiving and data protection on IBM Z, IBM stated.
  • z/OS Communications Server supports Shared Memory Communications Version 2 (SMCv2), which provides better performance without being constrained to a single IP subnet, IBM stated. Additionally, Communications Server brings improved notification of the availability of TCP/IP services after initialization. IBM z/OS Communications Server provides common applications, such as FTP, Telnet and the remote execution of applications.

IBM said z/OS V2.5 is the basis for future support of an open-source Open Container Initiative runtime and Kubernetes container orchestration for IBM z/OS applications and workloads. This support is intended to let businesses develop a container-based cloud-native strategy for mission-critical z/OS applications.

On the security side, IBM said z/OS V2.5 features bring a range  of improvements including authentication, authorization, system integrity and encryption. For example, they system supports sequential basic-format and large-format SMS-managed data sets to let customers encrypt data without application changes.

The new software employs Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA), Runtime Diagnostics, Workload Manager (WLM), and JES2 to help detect anomalous behavior in near real-time, letting customers proactively address potential problems, IBM stated. 

z/OS V2.5 also lets application developers use new hash utilities to maintain data integrity in files, new Transport Layer Security support when using the z/OS client Web Enablement Toolkit and enhancements to better control the operations of Z hardware, IBM stated.

Also in in z/OS V2.5, the Communications Server now extends z Encryption Readiness Technology or zERT to enforce network encryption standards through policy-based rules that describe different levels of cryptographic protection along with actions to take when TCP connections match those rules, IBM stated.

 zERT rules and actions are processed by the Communications Server Policy Agent and are enforced by the TCP/IP stack. This enables immediate notification through messages, auditing through SMF records, and even automatic termination of connections when questionable or unacceptable cryptographic protection is used, IBM stated.

Lastly, IBM said that to accelerate the adoption of AI on IBM Z, a client can deploy prebuilt container images for popular machine-learning frameworks such as Tensorflow, available through the IBM Z and LinuxONE Container Image Repository.  Customers can, for example, use machine-learning models on IBM z/OS through IBM Watson Machine Learning for z/OS (IBM WMLz) 2.3, which has been upgraded to support more types of machine-learning models.

“In addition, the latest release is designed to easily import deep-learning models in ONNX format and deploy them into an optimized scoring service running in zCX—enabling deep-learning inferencing workloads with IBM WMLz 2.3 to be zIIP eligible,” IBM stated. 

“IBM z/OS V2.5 brings new security and resiliency capabilities to the platform and enables clients to infuse AI in real-time into every business transaction—imperatives that became more urgent during the pandemic, said Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM Z in a statement.

IBM is looking to continue its overall cloud growth. In its recent Q2 financial call it said its cloud revenue over the last year across software, services, and infrastructure is now $27 billion, which is up at a double-digit rate.

“This quarter, financial services continue to drive IBM Z, given capacity requirements to address robust market volatility,” IBM stated. “With security top of mind, purchases were also driven by clients looking for capabilities such as pervasive encryption and hyper protect to secure mission-critical applications and data, both on-premises and in the cloud.”

IBM z/OS V2.5 is expected to available Sept. 30, 2021.

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