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IBM targets edge, AI use cases with new z16 mainframes

News Analysis
Apr 04, 20234 mins
Cloud ComputingEdge Computing

IBM's new 18u z16 mainframes offer more data-center configuration options and additional edge use cases.

server racks in a modern data center computer racks all around picture id1128187495
Credit: yucelyilmaz

IBM has significantly reduced the size of some its Big Iron z16 mainframes and given them a new operating system that emphasizes AI and edge computing.

The new configurations—which include Telum processor-based, 68-core IBM z16 Single Frame and Rack Mounted models and a new IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper 4 and LinuxONE Rockhopper Rack Mount boxes—are expected to offer customers better data-center configuration options while reducing energy consumption. Both new Rack Mount boxes are 18U compared to the current smallest Single Frame models, which are 42U.

“Reducing data-center energy consumption is a tangible way to decrease impact on the environment, and key architectural advantages help distinguish both IBM z16 and LinuxONE for sustainability, especially when consolidating x86 workloads in the data center,” said Marcel Mitran, IBM Fellow and CTO Cloud Platform, IBM zSystems and LinuxONE.

He said moving workloads from x86 servers to LinuxONE or z6 realized energy savings of 75% and reduced the necessary data-center space by 67%. “When comparing to prior generations of zSystems and LinuxONE, both new systems use less power than comparably configured previous-generation systems and improve computing power delivered for each kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed by 18%,” he said.

Because the new z16 takes up half the rack space it used to, storage, networking, and other adjacent systems can occupy the same rack to provide more mainframe compute density in a much smaller package, said Steven Dickens, vice president and practice leader with Futurum Research. “Certainly it’s going to make it a lot easier for customers to manage and maintain their mainframes going forward,” Dickens said.

While the form-factor shift is significant, the new boxes will be optimized to run a recently detailed version of the mainframe’s operating system, z/OS 3.1. 

The operating system will include new features including a new AI Framework for system operations intended to augment z/OS with intelligence that optimizes IT processes, simplifies management, improves performance, and reduces skill requirements.

The new version will  also support technologies intended to enable deployment of AI workloads co-located with z/OS applications and feature improved cloud capabilities, IBM said in a customer preview letter.  

IBM said customers will be able to control the system with AI-powered workload management that intelligently predicts upcoming workloads and reacst by allocating an appropriate number of batch runs, thus eliminating manual fine-tuning and trial-and-error approaches.

“z/OS security plans to be enhanced to provide ever-greater defense-in-depth functionality that is focused on mitigating the increased risk to data privacy and protection for overall system hardening,” IBM stated. For  example, it features a new Authorized Code Monitor to guard against potential vulnerabilities, expanded System Recovery Boost solutions, and new interfaces for runtime diagnostics and resource monitoring, IBM stated.

“Paired with a z16 system, the new z/OS will further enable the AI acceleration, quantum-safe and flexible capacity capabilities of the platform,” said Mitran.

For the LinuxONE system, the latest versions of the SUSE, RHEL, Ubuntu Linux distros support key features in the Telum processor such as the accelerated AI inferencing, secure execution for confidential computing, and quantum safe-cryptography. These Telum features were introduced in RHEL8, SLES 15 and Ubuntu 20 distro streams, said Mitran.

“The fact that the LinuxONE Rack Mount can fit into a third-party rack will remove one more friction point to customers adopting the Rockhopper which has been very successful already in competing against generic x86 server vendors like Cisco, HP, and others,” Dickens said. “IBM is seeing huge growth in  it’s Linux business—it grows even faster than the 20% per year it sees with Red Hat.”

According to Mitran, customers can partition the rack-mount system into 40 different logical partitions—the equivalent of 40 metal servers capable of hosting hundreds of workloads at sustained high utilization. 

The new z16s could also drive other new use cases such as edge computing where customers can more easily locate powerful resources closer to users which could be valuable especially in an AI-development environment, IBM stated.

Other edge uses could include locations that have limited rack space such as manufacturing and healthcare facilities.   

The new IBM z16 and LinuxONE 4 Single Frame and Rack Mount options will be generally available IBM and certified business partners on May 17.