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50 Years of Improvement and Innovation

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:41 PM


Editor’s note: This article is based on content initially published in the SHARE President’s Corner blog. 

In a few months the mainframe turns 50. And what this means to IT buyers is that when you buy a mainframe, you’re buying 50 years of continuous improvements in performance and in manageability–and 50 years of investment protection. (Look at the age of some workloads still running on mainframes.) A great example of these types of improvements can be found in one of the mainframe’s operating systems, z/OS.

A closer look at z/OS shows an operating system that has been designed around resource sharing (the mainframe is a shared everything architecture), security (the System z processor includes on-chip cryptographic facilities and further crypto facilities are available in the systems design), reliability and availability, performance and integrity (look at the sheer number of transactions a mainframe can handle and consider how it protects data from failures).

This operating environment has been designed to support multiple and varied workloads concurrently–and can run the mainframe at 100 percent utilization rates for long, sustained periods of time. It is decades ahead of some other architectures when it comes to virtualization, provisioning and workload management. Simply put: It is a marvel of software engineering.

Recent Updates

IBM recently updated z/OS to version 2.1–and this version features several new improvements and innovations. These include:

  • New data compression algorithms (as part of IBM’s zEnterprise Data Compression [zEDC] environment) that shrink the size of active data (up to four times reduction in file size) and reduce related CPU processing costs;
  • New communications capabilities including the use of the Shared Memory Communications-Remote Direct Memory Access (SMC-R) to speed processor-to-processor communications (SMC-R is a protocol for communicating through memory that can yield up to an 80 percent improvement in latency);
  • Enhancements to z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF) that include simplified management and improvements to the workflow engine (this engine is currently being used for install and migration work, but is a core engine for automating and managing work across the mainframe). It should be noted that z/OSMF is the new face of z/OS. IBM is building applications (and APIs for others) to not only bring new function, but also to change the way IT managers and administrators interface, use and operate the environment;
  • Additional Execute Channel Program (EXCP) support that allows System z to use high performance fiber communications channel (FICON) to communicate among workloads at much faster speeds, thus reducing bandwidth overhead, leading to improved performance;
  • Increases in the size of the file system–now supporting a file system size of 16 TB for greater scalability;
  • Improvements in the batch processing speed of DFSMShsm-migrated data–enabling batch jobs to complete more quickly; and,
  • Remote access to System z encryption from Linux clients (this enables System z to be used as a security/crypto hub for Linux environments).
Why are these new enhancements important? Because they further improve mainframe performance while also helping to lower mainframe processing and management costs. Let’s take a closer look at some of these new features and functions:

  • By shrinking the size of active data by using the new zEDC facility, the CPU does not have to sift through as much data as it has had to do in the past. What this means is that the CPU has less data to process–and this frees up the CPU to do even more useful work. And because mainframe pricing is based partially on how many MIPS are processed by the CPUs, processing smaller data sets can help save money. In short: By shrinking the size of active data, the CPU doesn’t have to work as hard–thus delaying upgrade purchases.
  • By implementing the SMC-R protocol for processor-to-processor communications, IBM speeds communications while reducing TCP/IP processing overhead. By using SMC-R, processors do not have to use TCP/IP protocols to communicate between hosts–instead they use a more streamlined protocol that allows hosts to communicate with each other through memory. This means that z/OS 2.1 can process workloads more quickly than previous versions of z/OS without having to deal with as much communications overhead. And this creates a cost advantage (less communications processing needs to take place), while also creating a performance advantage (because communications occurs more quickly) for users of z/OS 2.1.
  • Improvements in the z/OSMF management facility help automate and streamline management operations–leading to lower costs (because less time is spent performing management labor–and because lesser skilled [and less costly] individuals can be used to perform various management functions). As an example, consider that IBM has added z/OS FICON Discover and Auto Configuration (zDAC) facilities as part of its management environment. This facility adds support for discovering direct-attached storage devices (including devices not attached via a network switch), saving mainframe managers from having to perform searches for direct-attached storage devices manually (allowing zDAC to help cut down on mainframe management labor costs). Further, z/OS 2.1 introduces the ability to move SMS-managed (Storage Management Subsystem) active data within a storage hierarchy using policy-based services. This improves storage management by simplifying the movement of stored data.

There is a pattern that can be observed by looking at what IBM does in each successive release of the z/OS operating environment. This pattern can be simply stated as: drive down processing costs, improve performance and continually improve security, all while constantly simplifying management. This same pattern can be found in z/OS 2.1–new compression algorithms mean that the CPU doesn’t have to process as much work (this saves money), new z/OSMF facilities simplify management (reducing the amount of manual labor an IT manager needs to perform–and also enabling enterprises to use lesser skilled/less costly managers) and new encryption facilities extend best-in-the-industry mainframe security to Linux users. IT executives looking to lower mainframe costs while improving performance should definitely take a closer look at this new version of IBM’s venerable mainframe operating system.

Joe Clabby is president of Clabby Analytics.