SHARE in Boston 2013 Journal: System z: The Smarter Computing Choice

SHARE in Boston 2013 Journal:  System z:  The Smarter Computing Choice

During last week’s SHARE in Boston event, I had the privilege of taking in the opening keynote by Greg Lotko, IBM vice president and business line executive for System z. Greg’s opening comments set the tone for the rest of the conference. And that tone was one of optimism, energy, and excitement.


Lotko started out by explaining how the world is changing via ever-increasing emphasis on digital interactions, whether they are rooted socially or for business. He made the connection that our digital world has led to smart computing and people being better informed than ever, due in part to operating in a network of their peers (crowd sourcing, anyone?) and their interactions through a multitude of devices. He noted that as a result, customer expectations are higher than ever. They demand personalized service and offerings.

So what all does that mean for business and IT? Well, Lotko noted that the current technology landscape, driven by the consumerization of IT, is making businesses focus on four critical areas: analytics, the cloud, mobile/social, and security. Here is the breakdown of those four areas as Lotko views them:

  • Analytics: CMOs have a lot of data coming their way from all of their business transactions, and they need to gain insight from this data.  That insight comes from Analytics.
  • Cloud:  Most businesses today are spending 70% of their IT budget just doing what they are already doing - operations and maintenance.  Cloud offers flexibility and economy to free up resources for innovation.
  • Mobile/Social:  Social media gives businesses a new way to connect to their customers.  There is an explosion in the sheer amount of interactions generated by mobile devices and social media.  Businesses need to be able to react and inform people in an economical and efficient fashion.
  • Security: While it’s important to build trust, keep in mind that damage doesn’t come to your business via the compromising of credit card
    information or medical records. Damage comes from the loss of trust between your business and the customer because the breach happened at all.  Businesses need to be mindful of protecting the assets that are placed in their care.

Lotko’s bottom line is that businesses must capitalize on transformative technology. And this where is System z comes in. While some of the above items are being handled off of the server, IBM continues to expand the role of zEnterprise to deliver strategic, differentiated capabilities and deeper client value.

He focused on the benefits System z can offer in terms of analytics and contends that if 50% of your data is coming from the mainframe, why not analyze it there too? This assertion is almost a no-brainer when you think about it. If the alternative is offloading or transmitting the data to a server for analysis, then why not keep it where it’s at, especially if you’ve got the  capacity to handle it? Lotko offered the example of the University of Arizona and its college of Pharmacy. They have a program which is a of a first-of-its-kind pharmacist-run call center providing medication therapy management services that increase the quality of health care and help reduce healthcare costs. Pharmacists and pharma techs use the system to gather information on medications to help patients.  This program was initially written for an Intel processor, but as demands increased, the processing power demands continued to grow.  University of Arizona now uses System z as the backbone.

He brought up Kevin Barber, Associate Director of the Medication Management Center at the College of Pharmacy for the University of Arizona, to offer additional insight. Barber explained how the program handles a significant amount of analytics as it is constantly checking against alerts and conditions that are set to examine possible interactions among the different drugs any give patient may be taking. He noted that every time the patient information changes, the data gets re-examined. This means that near constant analytics are being run on System z to ensure that patients don’t end up taking a dangerous combination of drugs.

Barber went on to say that the reasons the university went with System z included the following:

  • Extreme levels of scalability to handle growing workloads
  • Low administrative overhead, including simplicity of adding new Linux partitions
  • Stability and reliability without a lot of care and feeding
  • Flexibility to adapt to changing requirements and new business opportunities
  • Affordability with the business class

Perhaps Barber’s most insightful comment was his comparing System z to a self-contained ecosystem saying, “It’s the hardware, it’s the software, it’s the whole infrastructure.”

And he makes a good point. The benefits of zEnterprise are significant. Just take into consideration the following highlights he notes from his initial use:

  • Batch update process reduced from 50 hours to 4 hours
  • One weekend to conduct migration to Linux on z was simple and easy to take advantage of all its capabilities
  • The V7000 SAN that was installed with zEnterprise enabled quick use of some of its capabilities (such as solid state devices to support key portions of the database) to economically improve performance

The keynote wrapped by highlighting the importance of technology choice and the bigger role that plays in technology economics. That is to say, the impact choosing System z over a server farm can have across business sectors. An impact which is illustrated by two data points Lotko shared:  Organizations with higher mainframe use demonstrate an average of 31% lower IT cost of goods as well as computational growth that is roughly three times more economically efficient compared to distributed server-heavy organizations.

Final notes were offered in regard to the additional benefits that zEnterprise could offer in terms of optimizing mobile access for applications, establishing a robust cloud foundation, and securing data. Each a worthwhile reason to side with the mainframe over a server farm.

Overall, Greg Lotko and Kevin Barber’s joint keynote was just what it should be for SHARE’s Boston event. It took a time-tested technology, the mainframe, and showed how it can make a real impact on the changes affecting businesses today. The media is filled with buzz and excitement over all things cloud, social/mobile, analytics, and security. These are the topics which are not only the stuff of keynotes at big events, but have events all their own. But Lotko was able to effectively illustrate the role the mainframe can play in this new digital age, something often misconstrued as the time of servers.

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