Next-generation Z series features the elusive goal of full data encryption.
In the first major mainframe announcement by IBM in a decade, the company today unveiled its next-generation Z series that supports full-blown encryption for data via applications, cloud, and databases rather than today's more common practice of pockets of crypto.
Encryption remains a high bar for many organizations to deploy en masse; it's more often deployed at specific layers or portions of the data flow. And yes, mainframes are still a thing: The majority of credit card transactions run on IBM mainframes today, and other financial, insurance, and travel transactions still rely on the big ol' iron. IBM enlisted experts and customers from 150 different companies in building the architecture of the new Z system, including ADP and Highmark Healthcare.
"The challenge everyone has is it was too expensive to encrypt all of this … not really [expensive] in money, but I mean in processing time," says Caleb Barlow, vice president of threat intelligence at IBM Security. Transaction-based systems can't afford degradation of performance or user experience, he says. "When you're moving money or visiting an ecommerce website ... the encryption and decryption" steps can slow the process, he says.
So in most cases, encryption happens between the Web browser and the application server, or in a storage array. After each step of the data flow, the data is decrypted, so it doesn't remain locked down.
The Z system keeps data encrypted across the board, from the network to the storage array, in what IBM calls "pervasive" encryption, explains Barlow.
IBM engineered encryption into the Z's postage-stamp sized silicon processor: there are 6 billion transistors there dedicated to encryption processing, he says.
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