A Mainframe for the Millennials


Ross Mauri, GM, IBM z Systems
Ross Mauri, GM, IBM z Systems

Over the holidays, I spent a few days skiing with family and friends in Vermont. Or, it would be more accurate to say my family and friends skied and I spent much of my time on the phone and email planning today’s launch of the IBM z13, a new  generation of IBM z systems built to redefine digital business and enable the new possible.

I was so preoccupied with work that my daughter’s boyfriend, a 21-year-old university student, asked me what was up. Like many of the millennials I meet, he knew next to nothing about the mainframe. And, like other young people I speak to, he was wowed when I explained to him that many of his day-to-day activities depend on mainframe computers operating in the background–including banking, shopping, getting car insurance, traveling, registering for classes, interacting with the DMV and IRS, and, yes, talking on the phone.

This new generation represents a great leap forward for IBM, our clients and society at large. (Thoughts? Tweet to #innovation.)

We designed the z13 machine from the ground up with mobility in mind. Over the past decade, the world has witnessed an explosion of data–from electronic commerce, social media, business  systems, Web sites and the Internet of Things. Today, our interactions with data and with each other are increasingly going mobile. As a result, we’re consuming and creating data all the time, every day. And you can expect 100 times more data to flow 2-3 years from now. The z13, with 141 of the industry’s fastest microprocessors (with 5 GHz performance) on board, is the only computer that’s purpose-built to handle this mobile data tsunami.

The z13 enables businesses to make sense of all of that data, in real time, on behalf of their customers. The mainframe has analytics built in–integrated with the transaction processing.  And, believe me, z13 is a data-crunching monster. Part of it is due to specialized high-performance processors, but we also loaded the machine with a tremendous amount of memory (up to 10 terabytes) and huge pipes for shuttling data (at 16,000 gigabits per second) between processor, memory and storage.

The z13 it makes all of those insights available to us at our fingertips, securely, wherever and whenever we want them. That’s because companies can use the mainframe to deliver cloud services to business clients and consumers alike. In fact, you can think of the z13 as a cloud data center in a box. A single machine can run as many as 8,000 virtual machines –delivering cloud economics and agility without the risks inherent in other cloud computing architectures.

There’s a scenario I use to help people understand why we call z13 the mainframe for the mobile era. Imagine you’re at the coffee shop after work and you’re searching via your smartphone for a gift for your best friend You’re using an app that knows you and your shopping habits–and how you respond to discounts.  All that data is processed on a mainframe.

While you’re shopping, the system notices what you’re viewing and brings additional items to your attention that you’re likely to be interested in. In addition, it tailors pricing to your willingness to pay. The mainframe makes all of this possible through “in-transaction analytics.”  Thanks to z13, the retailer makes a sale (and perhaps more than one) and you find the perfect at an attractive price.

The mainframe helps improve the mobile shopping experience in other ways, as well. We know that people have an ultra-low tolerance for delays when they’re using smartphones. If there’s a few-second lag, they’re on to something else. The z13 squeezes latency out of the system. In fact, applications on IBM z show response times that are as much as 2.8 times faster than the competitive platforms.

And, of course, people want their financial and personal information to be secure when they’re online.  The z13 has powerful data encryption that protects us from malicious hackers and identify thieves.

The mainframe has tremendous staying power. That’s partly because it is, in many cases, the most cost-efficient way to perform high-volume computing tasks. In addition, it’s because we’re constantly evolving the technology so it can handle the most challenging jobs that businesses can throw at it. Mobile and big data represent the big challenges of today and the future. Also, we work closely with clients so we understand deeply their problems and opportunities. As a result, we  “co-create” new mainframe capabilities with them. These aren’t nice-to-have innovations; they’re absolutely critical to doing business.

When I joined IBM at age 21 straight out of college, my first job was writing operating system code for the mainframe. I’ve spent most of my career in the mainframe business. In fact, my office today is less than 100 yards from the place where I sat in 1980. So I feel like I’ve come full circle.

Whenever I can, I reach out to young people and encourage them to pursue a career in mainframe technology, like I did. There’s tremendous satisfaction to be drawn from working in the heart of the most capable machine in the world–either in software or hardware design. We’ve also made it easier for software programmers to build new applications to run on mainframes. They can use some of the same programming languages and tools they employ for other computer environments.

So I offer an open invitation to millennials everywhere: meet the mainframe. If you plan to be a computer engineer or software programmer, consider this amazing system as the platform for your career. And, no matter who you are, when you get up in the morning and go to school or to work, understand that mostly likely a mainframe is helping you to interact more successfully, securely and quickly with the world around you. This machine touches your life every day, in many ways.

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