IBM z14 Simplifies Encryption Usage on Mainframes

Mike Vizard

A new class of z14 Series mainframes unveiled today by IBM delivers three times as much horsepower that can be employed to encrypt every piece of data running on it.

While IBM has always touted the encryption capabilities of the mainframe, Mike Desens, IBM vice president of offering management for z Systems and LinuxONE, says this latest version enables IT organizations to apply encryption at the data set level. That capability makes applying and managing encryption much simpler when compared to a previous approach that required much more special skills and was significantly more labor intensive, says Desens. That’s significant, says Desens, because the complexity associated with managing encryption has limited usage despite the increased level of security threats IT organizations face.

“Only about 4 percent of data is encrypted,” says Desens.

IBM is also now encrypting the application programming interfaces (APIs) exposed by mainframes as well as adding a facility that invalidates any encryption key if there has been any sign of tampering. IBM is also expanding the number of locations where it provides a blockchain cloud service based on a mainframe running the LinuxOne operating system.

A new mainframe processor that provides access to 32TB of memory as well as a corresponding three-fold increase in I/O performance is at the core of many of the security enhancements. Desens says there are now circuits in that 5.2GHz processor specifically designed to optimize security in addition to a much faster card for processing payment card industry (PCI) data.

At the same time, IBM announced that later this year it will make a significant change to its mainframe licensing model that is intended to encourage IT organizations to deploy emerging microservices on a mainframe. Within the context of a Logical Partition (LPAR), IBM will make it possible to run container images such as Docker on top of a proprietary mainframe container engine for zOS at a nominal cost. Because IBM charges customers based on peak workload rates, those container images in many cases can be processed essentially for free at certain times of the day, in much the same way IBM already enables IT organizations to process Linux workloads at a nominal cost alongside zOS workloads, says Desens.

Despite all the hype surrounding the demise of the mainframe, most large IT organizations are still completely dependent on a venerable platform that is now over 50 years of age. Thanks to a combination of faster processors that enhance security as well as a proprietary container engine, IBM is sending a clear signal that it expects mainframe platforms to continue to remain relevant for decades to come.


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