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IBM Announces New Mainframe: The Z16

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Reports of the mainframe’s death have been significantly exaggerated, IBM says. The company is developing a new mainframe that appears to be tailor-made for large financial institutions and corporations that want to use AI.

 

The z16, IBM’s latest mainframe, runs on IBM Telum processors and is primarily intended for companies that need to process large amounts of data in a short time. For example, IBM states that the device can process 300 billion financial transactions per day, with a millisecond of latency. Therefore, the target audience appears to be primarily financial organizations such as banks, insurers, governments, and other companies that have to detect fraud on a large scale and in real-time.

One of the more important features is the on-chip AI accelerator. “AI has many applications, from banking and financial institutions to insurance and healthcare,” said Elpida Tzortzatos, CTO at IBM Systems AI, at a news conference. “The z16’s AI technology stack is built to support all those applications. But when you look at instant payments and online transactions, you see a big growth in transactions and the possible fraud that goes with it. So to bring AI in there in real-time to check that, without breaking SLAs, you need powerful technology.’

Also striking: is a system that IBM calls ‘quantum-safe’. The bottom line is that the company sees its new mainframe running in a hybrid cloud environment and that such a device should be able to last for a while. So the z16’s security should be able to handle attacks from quantum computers in a few years. The kind of feared computers could break many of the currently used cryptography security techniques.

Attackers who steal data now to decrypt it later with better technology must also be considered. The system includes a secure boot sequence and lattice-based cryptography. It uses a relatively recent kind of mathematical problem that is not supposed to be solved simply by a quantum computer, in contrast to classical cryptography.

“Today’s cryptography draws its strength from how difficult it is to solve specific mathematical problems. A quantum computer can do just fine,” explains Anne Dames, an IBM Distinguished Engineer specializing in cryptography. “If a quantum computer is powerful enough, our data may be at risk. IBM wants to get ahead of that threat.” She explains that the cryptography used in the mainframe uses, among other things, 256-bit AES keys, a standard that, even with advanced computers, could not be broken right away.

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