The IBM Mainframe: The Machine that Keeps Making History

by Dr. John E. Kelly III, Senior Vice President, Solutions Portfolio and Research

In December, I had the opportunity to take part in a tribute to one of the great architects of the IBM mainframe, Erich Bloch.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan presented Bloch and two of his IBM colleagues, Fred Brooks and Bob Evans, with the first U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The award cited "their contributions to the IBM System/360, a computer system and technologies that revolutionized the data processing industry."

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, ranks the S/360 as one of the all-time top three business accomplishments, along with Ford’s Model T and Boeing’s first jetliner, the 707. That’s pretty exclusive company.

This S/360 evolved over time into what we know today as “z System,” now 50 years young. Today, IBM launched the latest, most powerful iteration of the mainframe: the z13. This remarkable technology continues to power the platforms upon which entire industries and much of our global economy depend.

What sets the z13 apart? The same thing that differentiated its predecessors from the competition: the world-class IBM research and development inside every machine. There is no greater font of innovation in our industry.

That’s critical, because clients today require systems of insight. They must bring together massive amounts of data — customer data, enterprise data, mobile, social, streaming and genomic data — and analyze all of it to provide insights we’ve never had before. And they must do it securely.

IBM Research contributed significantly to achieving these goals in the z13, especially in the architecture and design of the processor and memory-cache systems, optimizing the technology for performance gains. Research results also factored into the high-security crypto devices inside, strengthening hardware protection.

We are now entering a new era of cognitive computing, in which computers will increasingly analyze problems in more human-like ways. And so it’s fair to ask: will the mainframe still be relevant in this context?

The answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it may be one of very few systems that can make this leap. The perfect combination to perform this task is mainframes and cloud, sometimes attached, sometimes one and the same where the mainframe is the cloud. 

As part of this transformation, we are bringing the computation to the core data. z13 is designed to speed the mobile transaction experience by allowing organizations to conduct analytics on the mainframe without the need to offload data to other systems. z13 "native analytics" can handle billions of transactions per day while analyzing data in real-time. It delivers faster, more personalized services with new levels of fraud protection. This is a competitive differentiator made possible by IBMers in Research.

We’re already starting to infuse cognitive sensing technologies inside the machines. We’ll continue to embed our most advanced learning machine technology into the mainframe, not only to gain greater efficiencies, but also to extract better and deeper insights for our clients from the tremendous amounts of data they possess. 
All of this innovation is accelerating on z13. In just the past year, IBM has received more than 500 patents on mainframe technology. There are companies that would be thrilled to have 500 patents in their entire portfolio.

This is innovation with a purpose. We listened to clients from retail to healthcare, from global finance to transportation, from energy to government.  They told us what they needed to drive their industries forward and to serve their customers and constituents better. We took that feedback and brought together the brightest minds thousands of IBMers who are passionate about solving the world’s greatest challenges to design a system that is unmatched.

Every new generation of the IBM mainframe is state-of-the-art technology that has the power to transform industries and society. The z13 is the latest product of this remarkable legacy.

The revolution continues. 

Tune in to the Livestream event on Wednesday, January 14, from 2 – 4:30 p.m. ET (US) when IBM will share a whole new generation of IBM z Systems; and watch the new z Systems movie: New Possibilities (beginning 11:30 a.m. ET on January 14) to find out how today's IBM mainframe is built for the needs of today’s digital economy.

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