IBM gives z/OS an AI infusion in major upgrade aimed in part at easing admin chores

Big Blue bakes in brainbox tech to get models running – because kids these days don't want a career in big iron

IBM has, as promised, announced an imminent upgrade to z/OS, the operating system for its Z-series mainframes, and promised an infusion of AI enablers.


IBM shrinks z16 and LinuxONE systems into standard rack configs


The upgrade will see z/OS jump from version 2.5 to 3.1. According to Big Blue's announcement of the OS: "AI and analytics solutions … are infused into the operating system."

That infusion appears to come from a product called "AI System Services for IBM z/OS" that IBM advises will "Support key AI lifecycle phases including data ingestion, AI model training, inferencing, AI model quality monitoring, and retraining services."

The tool also promises the chance to "Deploy prebuilt AI models and infused AI methods into operation without requiring users to have AI or data science skills."

It also serves as part of the "AI Framework for IBM z/OS” – a tool designed to assist with running prebuilt AI models that help to improve z/OS itself, by improving IT processes and simplifying management. IBM reckons you'll emerge with improved performance, and fewer requirements for skilled z/OS admins.

Similar outcomes may flow from another addition to z/OS 3.1: the z/OS Management Facility (aka "z/OSMF"). IBM says the tool will "help system programmers more easily manage and administer z/OS day-to-day operations."

Big Blue's added some non-AI stuff, too, such as Container Extensions that improve support for Red Hat OpenShift and support NFS, HTTPS, IBM WebSphere Hybrid Edition, and IBM Storage Fusion OpenShift Shared Persistent Storage.

The Data Set File System can do a job as the new physical file system for z/OS UNIX utilities, "to provide transparent access to data in a secure and consistent manner." A new union file system (UFS) was "purposefully built for z/OS" and "enables a user to obtain a merged view of one or more directories to provide a more efficient mechanism for managing files."

No matter how much IBM likes to talk about mainframes as a modern platform that is more resilient than rivals, consideration of legacy code is never hard to find during a mainframe conversation. In z/OS 3.1 it gets help from what IBM describes as "enhanced COBOL-Java interoperability for 31-bit COBOL applications" that's been extended to call 64-bit Java programs using the IBM Semeru Runtime Certified Edition for z/OS, Version 11 (Java).

Security enhancements include the ability to perform a validated boot of z/OS systems, with digital signatures used to verify that systems haven't been tampered with.

There's even a new API that makes it possible for unnamed management tools to ingest runtime diagnostic data more easily. The Register's mainframe desk fancies that's a nod to growing interest in observability tools and therefore IBM ensuring that apps running on mainframes – which Big Blue always argues are the best environment for critical code – aren't invisible.

And finally, storage admins, rejoice! IBM has noticed that z/OS users "are integrating cloud object storage into their classic disk and tape environments to create a hybrid storage architecture." Plenty of changes in z/OS 3.1 make that easier to achieve.

The updated OS is set to debut on September 29, 2023. It will run on all models of the IBM Z14, 15, and 16 systems.

Big Blue updates z/OS about every two years, so news of the September update is significant – especially for users of the Z14, as IBM stopped selling that model in 2021 and will likely end support in 2027 or 2028. z/OS 3.1 may therefore represent one of the last chances to upgrade the machines. ®

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