IBM dangles carrot of full encryption to lure buyers to new z14 mainframe

IBM is doing its damnedest to keep the mainframe
relevant in a modern context, and believe it or not, there are
plenty of monster corporations throughout the world who still
use those relics from the earliest days of computing. Today,
the company unveiled the z14, its latest z-Series
, which comes with the considerable draw of full

Is that enough for even corporate giants to shell out the dough
for one of these computing behemoths? IBM’s general manager of
z Systems Ross Mauri says the company spent two years talking
to 150 customers to get a grip on exactly what it would take
for them to upgrade their current mainframe technology, and
what they kept hearing was “encrypt everything so we don’t have
to worry about it.”

And that’s precisely what Mauri says IBM set out to do with the
latest release. “[Full Encryption] was the most needed
capability, and it solves a real-world problem. There’s a cyber
war out there with highly funded groups looking for data and
getting it. Our purpose [with z14 encryption] is shutting that
down,” he said.

The way they are doing it is by encrypting every level of the
system, and then storing everything inside encrypted
containers. What’s more, if the system detects an attack like
malware or other intrusion, it has been designed to shut itself
down automatically. As Mauri said, even if hackers could
somehow get through all of these defenses, the encryption would
render the data useless.

Peter Rutten, an analyst with IDC says all-encompassing
encryption is clearly the key to this release. “It’s like a
security blanket across the entire system — database,
applications, data at rest, data in flight, APIs, etc. — that
can just be turned on, rather than manually picking and
choosing what to encrypt, which typically has led to much
[data] remaining unencrypted,” he explained.

Beyond pure encryption, customers also told IBM they wanted
this capability delivered in a cost-effective way. Of course,
IBM is promising this, and has revealed a new pricing strategy
called a “container pricing model,” but Mauri wouldn’t discuss
details, so it’s difficult to know exactly how the company
defines “cost-effective.”

Pund-IT analyst Charles King says, however, that the container
pricing approach has the potential to be more cost-effective in
the long run than earlier mainframe pricing schemes. “Container
pricing is a more flexible approach that should result in
system billing more accurately reflecting the amount of work
the system is used to accomplish [a given task], thus making
the z14 (and z13, since container pricing will also be
available for those systems) more cost-effective,” King said.

All that said, it’s probably going to take more than total
encryption for a company to spring for a mainframe unless it’s
core to their business, according to analyst Roger L. Kay from
the firm, Endpoint Technologies Associates, Inc. “No, I don’t
think a company would buy a mainframe just for the encryption.
But companies that need mainframes to run the backbone of
large, complex business systems will find the upgrade to z14
worthwhile,” he said.

Mauri wouldn’t discuss specific sales projections, but he
sounded confident that the latest z model was going to sell
well. After more than two years of talking to customers, and
building the exact system they asked for, it would appear he
has every reason to.

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