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Miao Zhang-Cohen of IBM Z Program Management on the IBM z15

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:36 PM


Miao Zhang-Cohen, the IBM Z product owner/program manager responsible for the development and delivery of the newest IBM z15 mainframe computer, works in Poughkeepsie, NY. Over the last two years, she has led a global team to achieve the delivery of IBM z15, which delivers significantly greater capability, value and performance to IBM’s clients. IBM z15 is a transformational system that is designed for today's cloud datacenters. It’s aligned with major datacenter trends including optimizing cost, efficiency, density and flexibility. It is truly a system that provides the cloud you want with the security and privacy you need.
Zhang-Cohen began her career as a software engineer and has a wealth of background and experience in software solution delivery, project and program management, firmware, and software development management. She has worked with global teams from Germany, Japan, India, China and Singapore and held various leadership positions during her IBM career.
To get Zhang-Cohen’s insights on the IBM z15, I sat down with her for a Q&A session.
Q: How long did it take to bring IBM z15 to the marketplace from start to finish and what are its main features and characteristics?
A: z15 was four years in the making. This system was co-created with our clients to develop the core system configuration, the key system innovations, and the total solution stack for the market. It embodies technology innovations across circuit topologies, physical design methods, and logic optimization to achieve a 14% single thread performance improvement, 25% more total system capacity and 20% more I/O capacity compared to its predecessor. 
In addition, z15 has an on-chip compression accelerator and an elliptic curve cryptography accelerator per core, all on the same technology node and chip footprint similar to the z14. z15 offers a completely new robust 19” 1 to 4 frames package with choices of two power types: iPDU and Bulk Power. The z15 enables floor space reduction for most of our clients while maintaining approximately the same maximum footage for the largest configuration. This is the first time that IBM Z customers can participate in traditional data center aisles and hot/cold air containments systems. 
Last but not least, I want to highlight three key z15 offerings that really resonated in the marketplace: 
1. Industry-first Data Privacy Passport technology protects data and privacy not only on IBM Z but also across the ecosystem. Clients now have control over who can access the data and when, and the capability to revoke access instantly across the hybrid multicloud environment. 
2. Instant Recovery enables accelerated recovery during planned or unplanned service disruptions, helping the client to meet more stringent high availability requirements and tighter service level agreements without incurring additional cost.
3. Cloud-native development enables easy build and deployment of new applications and  modernization and integration of legacy applications across hybrid cloud securely. 
Q: Has there been a count of the z15 lines of code or function points or other project functional measure?
A: Lines of code cannot measure what z15 has delivered. The end result is a phenomenal product by the brilliant minds and hard work of IBMers. Consider its components—9.2 billion transistors, 15.6 miles of wires, 26.2 billion wiring connections, 1 trillion web transactions per day, 14% better performance than the z14 and 99.99999% availability.
Q: There are so many new and enhanced features across different disciplines spanning hardware, firmware and software. How many different teams were involved?
A: There were a large number of teams involved in the z15 product design, development and delivery. It is difficult to give a number but here are some of the teams that come to mind to give you an idea of the scope of effort: Hardware, Firmware, Operating Systems, Software, Test, Environment and Safety Compliance, RAS, Architecture and Performance, e-Config, System Supply Chain, Information Solutions, New Product Introduction, Product Engineering, Client Care, Service, Program Management and others. 
I had the opportunity to work with the most talented, dedicated and hardworking teams from all over the world with one goal—making IBM z15 our best product to date providing greater value to our clients. I'd like to take this opportunity to give a special shout out to the awesome and world-class mainframers that contributed to this amazing product! 
Q: Do the project teams use the same methods, for example Agile development style or do they use different approaches like waterfall, prototyping and iterative/incremental development?
A: The teams use all of the above methods throughout the program depending on the individual deliverables and circumstances. I would say though we’re more Agile than ever before—scrums, sprints, playbacks, retrospectives, you name it. It’s the way we choose how to do our work to deliver a solid and sustainable product that delights our clients.
Q: I understand that IBM worked with over 100 companies in a design-driven approach to arrive at the functionality developed for z15. How was all that effort and interaction coordinated? 
A: Yes, IBM took Design Thinking to a whole new level with the z15 design as we engaged with clients, from individual sponsor users, to the zDesign council and General Manager Advisory council. It was the most extensive client partnering we have ever done for a Z release and the user interaction hours were actually 3x greater that we had over the z14 program. 
The designers from the design studio here in Poughkeepsie were instrumental in this effort, as were offering management and development who came together to ensure both the needs of the clients and an excellent user experience are addressed by our offerings. 
Q: I read that for z15, more that 3,000 patents were filed or issued. Why is this important to IBM? What does it do for the company?
A: Filing patents is important because it demonstrates the leadership that IBM possesses in hardware and software technology and it is a testimony of the continued innovation and transformation of the mainframe in security, cloud, AI and blockchain. Innovation matters. Patenting promotes a culture of innovation and collaboration across teams and disciplines, bringing in IP income for the company. 
Q: How did IBM work with partners and ISVs to involve them in the z15 product?
A: Besides the zDesign council, General Manager Advisory council and the sponsor users I mentioned above, we also conducted a new production introduction program where clients get an early experience on the platform before general availability. This is something that we do for every Z release. We have dedicated teams to work with these clients very closely to get their new systems migrated and up and running and get feedback—and z15 is no exception.  
One of the IBM Z priorities is to focus on the ecosystem and ISVs are part of this. We know that for us to be successful, we need ISVs to be thriving, to continue to develop new products and services around the platform and generate new business opportunities. Twice a year, IBM holds technical disclosure meetings in Poughkeepsie with ISVs, where they have direct access to our developers and their expertise and where they focus on new product discussions and get their feedback and gain their advocacy and trust.