Wednesday, May 20, 2020

IBM Think 2020: Virtual, On Demand, Hybrid Cloud and Z

This year’s IBM Think event was quite different than in past years. Usually, Think is an in-person event and attracts a lot of people, typically more than ten thousand IT executives and practitioners. But as we all know, this year with the global COVID-19 pandemic an in-person event was not practical, so IBM held it on-line. And I have to say, they did a fantastic job of managing multiple threads of content without experiencing bandwidth or access issues – at least none that I encountered.
The theme and focus of the content for the event was different, too. Instead of the usual conference focus on products, announcements, and customer stories, this year’s event was more philanthropic. Oh, sure, you could still hear about IBM’s products and customer successes, but the keynote and featured sessions were at a higher level this year.
In the kickoff session, new IBM CEO Arvind Krishna spoke about the driving forces in IT as being hybrid cloud and AI. And he spoke about these things in the context of moving IBM forward, but also how they can be used to help healthcare workers combat pandemics like we are currently experiencing.
In another keynoteIBM Executive Chairman Ginni Rometty spoke with Will.i.am (of the Black-Eyed Peas) about making the digital era inclusive through education, skills development, and the digital workforce. 


And then there was Mayim Bialik’s session on women and STEM, which was sincere, heartfelt, and entertaining. 

For those who don’t know who she is, she is the actress who played Blossom (on Blossom) and Amy Farrah Fowler (on The Big Bang Theory)… but she is also a scientist with a doctorate in neuroscience. Bialik’s session focused on putting a positive female face on STEM, something that is definitely needed!

So, what about the technology side of things? Well, you can take a clue from Krishna’s assertion that IBM as a company has to have a “maniacal” focus on hybrid cloud and AI in order to compete. But the company has a rich and deep heritage across the computing spectrum that gives it a key advantage even as it adjusts to embracing hybrid cloud and AI.
The first thing to remember is that IBM uses the term “hybrid multicloud[RB1] ” very specifically and deliberately. Everything is not going to be in the cloud[RB2] . Large enterprises continue to rely on the infrastructure and applications they have built over many years, many of them on z Systems mainframes. The key to the future is both on-premises and cloud, and IBM understands this with its hybrid cloud approach… as they clearly demonstrated at Think 2020.
My specific area of focus and expertise is the mainframe and Db2 for z/OS, so I sought out some sessions at Think in those areas. Let me tell you a bit about two of them.

First let’s take a quick look at how IBM Cloud Pak for Data can work with data on the Z platform. This information was drawn from IBM Distinguished Engineer Gary Crupi’s session, titled "Drive Actionable, Real-Time Insight from Your High-Value IBM Z Data Using IBM Cloud Pak for Data."

What is Cloud Pak for Data? Well, it is an IBM platform for unifying and simplifying the collection, organization, and analysis of data. Heretofore, it was mostly focused on non-mainframe platforms, but the latest release, version 3.0, is a major upgrade with an enhanced unified experience, expanded ecosystem, and optimized Red Hat integration. And it enables several ways for you to turn your enterprise data on IBM Z into actionable, real-time insight through the integrated cloud-native architecture of IBM Cloud Pak for Data.



Crupi’s session started out with the now familiar (at least to IBM customers and Think attendees) Ladder to AI and how Cloud Pak for Data helps to enable customer’s journey up the ladder. Data is the foundation for smart business decisions and AI can unlock the value of this data.

He went on to discuss the continuing importance of the mainframe providing facts including:
  •  70% of Fortune 500 companies use mainframe for their most critical business functions
  •  72% of customer-facing applications are completely or very dependent on mainframe processing
  •  The mainframe handles 1.1 million transactions per second (as compared to Google experiences of 60,000 searches per second)
  •  95% of transactions in the banking, insurance, airline and retail industries run on the mainframe

These are all good points; and things that mainframe users like to hear. It is good to see IBM promoting the ubiquity and capabilities of the mainframe.



Now, what about IBM Cloud Pak for Data better-exploiting mainframe data? Crupi goes back to the AI Ladder to talk about z/OS capabilities for analyzing and collecting data for AI.


Solutions such as Watson Machine Learing for z/OS, Db2 AI for z/OS, and QMF can be used for analyzing data; while Db2 for z/OS and Tools, IDAA, and Data Virtualization Manager can be used for data collection. These things already exist, but using them effectively with distributed platform capabilities will be crucial to be able to climb the ladder to AI.

IBM Cloud Pak for Data will leverage IBM Z technology to bring valuable IBM Z data into a modern analytics/AI platform. It can now exploit IBM Z data and resources where appropriate enabling you to further benefit from IBM Z technology and data.

A key new component of making the data on IBM Z accessible is IBM Db2 for z/OS Data Gate, a new product announced during Think 2020. Db2 Data Gate can help you reduce the cost and complexity of your data delivery with a simple, easy-to-deploy mechanism to deliver read-only access to Db2 for z/OS data. Instead of building and maintaining costly custom code, Db2 Data Gate do the work. Data can be synchronized between Db2 for z/OS data sources and target databases on IBM Cloud Pak for Data.


Instead of accessing data in the IBM Z data source directly, an application accesses a synchronized copy of the Db2 for z/OS data, hosted by a separate system. This target system can be established anywhere Cloud Pak for Data is supported, thus enabling a wide range of target platforms that include public cloud, on-premises, and private cloud deployments.


So IBM is helping you to expand the accessibility of your Z data.

And that brings me to the second session I’d like to briefly mention, Automate Your Mainframe z/OS Processes with Ansible [Session 6760]. 

Although Ansible is not a replacement for your operational mainframe automation tools, it can be used to communicate with and automate z/OS using the out-of-the-box SSH into z/OS Unix Systems Services to execute commands and scripts, submit JCL, and copy data. And Ansible has existing modules that can be used to make calls to RESTful/SOAP APIs that are available in many z/OS products.


Ansible can be beneficial to orchestrate cross-platform, including Z systems, and to simplify configuration and deployment management. But keep in mind that Ansible is a proactive framework for automation and is not intended to replace automation solutions that monitor and react.

Here is a nice, but by no means exhaustive, list of examples showing how Ansible can be used to interact with popular z/OS products.


The Bottom Line

The IBM Think 2020 conference was a great success considering how rapidly IBM had to move to convert it from an in-person event, to an online, virtual one. And the content was informative, entertaining, and had something for everybody. I hope you enjoyed my take on the event… feel free to share your comments below on anything I’ve written here, or on your experiences at the event.


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