IBM Beefs Up z990 Security

Overall z990 shipments meeting expectations, company says, but study shows almost half of IT shops surveyed aren't even aware that a new mainframe system is in the offing.

IBM Corp. last week announced that enhanced security and cryptography features for its new z990 mainframe systems will be available ahead of schedule—and just in time for the busy holiday shopping season.

Big Blue also disclosed that sales of the next-generation z990 mainframes are in line with its expectations. In fact, says an IBM representative, z990 sales will probably ramp up when it introduces new features later this year.

Security for Banking and Financial Customers

Big Blue will make full-feature cryptography—which comprises both “clear key” and “secure key” encryption services—available to customers running z/OS versions 1.2 and 1.4 by September 19th. Full-feature cryptography is a requirement for many applications in the banking and financial services industries, says David Mastrobattista, zSeries marketing manager with IBM.

“When the z990 first became available, we had the clear key already in there, those were the types that you’d typically use for SSL,” he explains. “The secure key encryption tends to be used for much more sensitive-type data—PIN numbers, for example. Secure key is really needed by banking [and] financial services industries and it basically offers the highest levels of data protection.”

IBM has promised cryptographic services for customers running z/OS 1.3, z/VM 5.1 and OS/390 2.10 on z990 systems. Mastrobattista notes that as a result of IBM’s accelerated delivery schedule, customers will be able to enable full-feature cryptography on z990 mainframes in time for the holiday shopping season.

One of the strengths of zSeries mainframes has been their adaptability for new workloads, such as Linux. In the past, zSeries systems have also demonstrated impressive performance (http://www.esj.com/news/article.asp?editorialsId=272) processing SSL transactions. Thanks to the new z990’s more powerful G8 CMOS, this tradition is alive and well, Mastrobattista claims. “At this point, with the z990 running our flagship operating system [z/OS 1.4], on a 16-way z990, we’ve achieved SSL transaction rates to the tune of 11,000 SSL handshakes per second,” he explains.

For the record, that’s almost 60 percent faster than the best-in-class benchmarks that IBM touted last year for the z900.

Z990 Uptick In Line with Expectations

z990 systems have been available for slightly more than a month now, and Mastrobattista says that overall shipments are “very much in line with expectations right now. We expect that with the addition of the secure key encryption, we’ll be able to satisfy the requirements of the banking and financial services who are looking for that level of protection for year-end requirements,” he says.

When IBM introduces 24- (C24) and 32-way (D32) variants of the z990 in October, Mastrobattista expects additional uptick, particularly among customers anxious to tap the capacity of the largest mainframes that Big Blue has ever developed.

“With the October machines, when those are delivered we will also be delivering up to 30 LPARs capability, which is a very impressive number for server consolidations, because that will allow the mainframe to consolidate more virtual servers in one physical partition,” he argues. “I think what you’ll see will be customers who have been waiting for these larger systems.”

Research firm Gartner Inc. has suggested that 15 to 20 percent of IBM’s mainframe base could be interested in its new z990 systems, while Big Blue has made even more optimistic projections. In its April, 2003 TechStrat survey of 100 U.S. and European CIOs, however, Merrill Lynch concluded that the vast majority of mainframe shops weren’t planning to purchase a new z990 mainframe over the next calendar year.

In fact, Merrill found that less than half (46 percent) of mainframe shops were even aware that a new mainframe system would soon be in the offing.

Among the other findings, Merrill discovered that more applications are moving off (78 percent) than on (22 percent) the mainframe, and that most shops aren’t maxing out their existing MIPS capacities.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.