Introducing the POWER9 Server Family

POWER9 is here. As many in our community will be looking to upgrade, we want to provide information on what these new servers offer you and your business.

According to IBM, POWER9-based servers are built for data intensive workloads, are enabled for cloud, and offer industry leading performance.

As you have experienced, Power Systems have the reputation of being reliable, and the POWER9-based servers are no exception. POWER9 gives you the reliability you’ve come to trust from IBM Power Systems, the security you need in today’s high-risk environment, and the innovation to propel your business into the future. They truly provide an infrastructure you can bet your business on. From a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) standpoint, a savings of 50% can be realized in 3 to 5 years when moving to POWER9 per IBM calculations.

When compared to other systems, POWER9 outperforms the competition. IBM reports:

  • 2x performance per core on POWER9 vs. X86
  • Up to 4.6x better performance per core on POWER9 vs. previous generations

Learn more about POWER9 by visiting the new landing page. For more detailed data regarding POWER9 performance, be sure to click on the Meet the POWER9 Family link.

Attending the COMMON Fall Conference & Expo? Be sure to attend the POWER Panel session on POWER9. This will be your opportunity to learn more about the servers from experts.

Use Single Sign-on for Better Password Compliance

Most employees hate changing their passwords. There are too many requirements, the passwords have to be changed too often, or there are too many systems – all of which require unique passwords – to remember them all. Workarounds can range from password-saving cookies to barely modified passwords. But whenever your co-workers follow the letter of the password law instead of the spirit, it just ends with little in the way of either security or goodwill.

How Can You Achieve Better Security through Password Compliance?

Most people know that passwords improve security, and they also know that more complex passwords are better. But they don’t know the specifics of why passwords are so important. Instead of trying to force company-wide behavioral changes through new rules and system set-ups, give a reason. Even one example or horror story of a corporate data leak is enough, though a general overview of how passwords work is good, too. As a general rule, people are more likely to adopt any new policy if there’s a reason why.

But even a reason might not be persuasive enough for full compliance. Instead, meet them in the middle with more convenience by implementing single sign-on. This addresses one of the three most common complaints when it comes to password resets (too many passwords to juggle), and it also gets rid of people’s tendency to create almost identical passwords so they’re easier to remember.

Single sign-on has all of the security of multiple logins, especially if you link the SaaS and databases through the intranet that you control. It might even offer more if you link the time-out rules. You can also use the intranet to keep data that flows between programs entirely contained in your system without downloads or copied files.

The more you can positively encourage good security practices, the more likely people are to adopt them.

Learn more about single sign-on at the 2018 Fall Conference & Expo. Check out this session from Thom Haze.

Minimize Employee Use of Local Storage

Saving files in local folders and even on the desktop is an easy option. Whenever you open a new file or download an attachment, it saves to a local ‘Download’ folder by default and edited files try to save themselves in ‘My Documents.’ But using local storage on individual devices can slow down your business.

Why Should You Reduce Local (Device-based) Storage?

Central or cloud-based storage is beneficial for multiple reasons. Easy security, universal access, and consistent back-ups are a few, and the inverse is true for local storage.

Only the Employee and the System Administrator Have Access

Locally stored files are easy for an employee to save and open, but only that specific employee. No one else has easy access, including managers or co-workers involved in the project. Only a network administrator with remote access to the drive can access the files. Not only is this inconvenient if the employee is out of the office that day, it also provides no protection against long-term loss of access. If the employee leaves the company and the drive is wiped (or the employee was using a personal device), any progress is lost. Hard drive malfunctions can also wipe out files without backup or a reparable file.

There Is No Version Control

If you’ve recently emailed a large group of people, the conversation probably segued into a couple of different email threads. This can be tricky to get back on track, and it always ends with not everyone having all the information they need. This is even more true with in-progress documents. If one employee is making updates based on a local file, other parties can’t see the changes until it’s manually shared. If two employees are making separate changes, then some work will be irreparably lost or there will be more confusion and frustration down the line. But if files are stored in working software, where changes are made live and saved continuously (especially if edits are marked by author), then there’s more collaboration and less overwriting or wasted effort.

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IBM Watson Is a Rock Star!

IBM’s Watson is an AI platform that’s having an increasingly vital impact in many different areas, including banking, medicine, and sports. Now Watson has begun making a mark in the music world as well. In fact, as a result of a collaboration with Grammy award winning producer Alex da Kid, Watson can lay legitimate claim to Rock Star status. The song they composed together, “Not Easy”, debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart and at #12 on the Hot Rock Songs list.

Alex da Kid has produced hits for major artists including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Dre, and Eminem, but never had a top hit of his own until he connected with Watson.

How the Watson/Alex da Kid Collaboration Worked

Alex da Kid wanted to write a song that connected with people on a deep emotional level. Having chosen the theme of “heartbreak”, he began working with Watson to understand the interaction between music and emotion, and to identify the musical characteristics that make a song a hit.

As a composition assistant, Watson consists of a suite of open APIs (Application Program Interfaces) that can be employed to analyze the musical structure of popular songs as well as human emotional and social tendencies, plus the interactions between those factors.

In the collaboration with Alex, the Watson Alchemy Language module (a set of text analysis APIs that has since been replaced by the Watson Natural Language Understanding service) analyzed five years of data, including front pages of the New York Times, movie summaries, internet searches, Wikipedia articles, and even Supreme Court rulings to identify significant cultural trends. Then Watson Tone Analyzer searched news articles, blogs, and social media posts to understand the human emotions those trends evoked.

Watson Tone Analyzer also examined the lyrics of 26,000 Billboard Hot 100 songs, while Watson BEAT analyzed the interaction between musical characteristics such as pitch, rhythm, chord progressions, and instrumentation. The idea, according to IBM, was to determine the “emotional fingerprints” that make a song popular.

All this resulted in Watson presenting Alex with compositional ideas that fit the mood he wanted to evoke. The process, according to IBM researcher Dr. Janani Mukundan, involved Alex entering a short section of music (as little as 10 seconds) into the system. Then, said Dr. Mukundan, “Watson will listen to this and scan it. He can also tell Watson, ‘Give me something that sounds romantic, or give me something that sounds like something I want to dance to.’ And since Watson understands these emotional ranges and can understand music as well, he will then use his original piece as an inspiration and also add on top of it the layer of emotion that he wants.”

Watson Is Not the Composer, but a Muse

Watson is not intended to compose fully fleshed-out songs on its own. Rather, it provides musical samples that fit a genre and mood. The human composer then uses those samples as inspiration on which to build a finished piece that is the result of his or her own artistic vision.

Still, the day may come when Watson, via it’s Natural Language Understanding module, hears its own name called out at the Grammy Awards.

Planning For IT Disaster Recovery with DRaaS

Of all the business areas, the IT infrastructure of an organization is more susceptible to the impact of disastrous events. What’s more, IT recovery can be exceedingly traumatic to a business.

IBM’s DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) – Offering Prompt Recovery from IT Outage

Analysts recommend different approaches to planning recovery from IT disasters, but IBM’s IT recovery service stands alone. IBM provides “rapid recovery”, followed by “continuous replication” of all the critical aspects of IT infrastructure. DRaaS eradicates redundancy of on-site recovery servers, and its optimized resiliency offers verifiable recovery with greater automation through end-to-end services. Besides, DRaaS facilitates business with dramatic minimization of RTO (Recovery Time Object) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective).

While it’s clear IBM’s recovery service can protect businesses from catastrophic disasters, it also offers protection from less dramatic but equally devastating disruptions. Results from this year’s IDG Enterprise Research Survey have shown ransomware attacks are climbing. While the threat to IT security is increasing, organizations can mitigate losses reducing RTO and RPO with DRaaS.

Here are some more DRaaS features that make it a powerhouse for IT recovery:

  • DRaaS can run disaster recovery tests without impeding the replication of data, while keeping costs low
  • DRaaS offers an “Alternate Work Area,” for businesses, so they don’t experience downtime due to disruptions to their locations

If you would like to learn more about IBM’s DRaaS, check out COMMON’s Webcast “DRaaS 101: Tips for Evaluating Cloud for Disaster Recovery as a Service.” Not a COMMON member? Join now.

How the Retail Industry Is Benefiting from Improved IT

Improved information technology and software programs continue to have a major impact on many different industries across the world. One industry that continues to be improved by IT services and products is the retail industry. Retail benefits in a number of different ways.

Improved Security

One of the main ways that the retail industry benefits from improved IT is through the improved security programs now available. Over the past few years, several major retailers have announced that their systems have been hacked and data for millions of consumers has been lost. Today, there are more IT security software programs and services that are geared to help retailers prevent these risks from occurring. This is accomplished through secure cloud-based networks and other systems that are challenging to access illegally.

Inventory Management

One of the biggest challenges that retailers have always had to deal with is inventory management. Those retailers that are not able to manage their inventory will often have too much of an unpopular product and not enough of the best-selling items. Today, through the use of a variety of IT programs and inventory management systems, companies are able to get better real-time inventory reports that can allow them to automatically modify orders from suppliers.

Mobile Shopping

Mobile apps are also gaining in popularity with consumers and retailers today. These enhanced applications provide a user with the ability to complete entire transactions from their phones while also ensuring that their data is going to be properly protected. This provides a more convenient and enjoyable shopping experience for all consumers. The increased use of mobile applications has also helped to reduce the need for as many brick-and-mortar stores, which has helped many retailers reduce their operating costs.

The Internet of Things and Changes in Energy Consumption

Many people are concerned about the possibility of increased levels of energy consumption in an era where electronic devices are used so frequently. However, it’s possible that trends related to the Internet of Things will actually help people manage their energy consumption levels.

Lighting and Heating

In the age of the Internet of Things, household lighting and heating systems will be capable of gathering information related to a family’s behavioral patterns. This will make it easier for these systems to adjust according to the specific light and heating preferences of the people involved.

As such, people will be able to enjoy lighting and heating at the levels that they really want. Residents will be less likely to deal with excessive heating and lighting conditions that are wasteful and that do not even reflect their actual preferences.

Household Appliances

There is no doubt that a lot of household appliances consume high levels of electricity. In the age of the Internet of Things, the energy consumption of these household appliances can be regulated much more effectively. The electricity consumption of these devices might be regulated according to dynamic pricing indicators. These household appliances might also use electricity based on the habits of their owners.

Motion Sensors

Many people are used to lighting systems that use motion sensors today. In the age of the Internet of Things, it will be much easier for devices to gain information on whether or not anyone is even present. These systems will adjust themselves based on whether or not there is anyone there, so they will only be in use when they’re really need. As such, many buildings all across society will use electricity much more efficiently.

The Internet of Things will help save people money by giving them the chance to effortlessly consume less electricity. This era will have a lot of important environmental implications as well.

Understanding Different Disaster Recovery Strategies and Methods

Many information technology professionals come to understand that disaster recovery has several different elements. Categorizing different disaster recovery methods can help information technology departments protect what they have.

Precautionary Procedures

Disasters can strike at any time, and information technology departments need to be ready before there is any indication that one will happen. Part of the process is having solid off-site copies of important data available in several locations.

Making sure information technology departments are equipped with generators and surge protectors can also stop departments from losing massive amounts of data on a basic level. It’s also a good idea to monitor the department regularly, thus giving professionals the opportunity to recognize the warning signs of problems.

Identification of Threats

Even the most carefully maintained information technology departments will face threats eventually, and they need to be skilled at finding them. Antivirus software is used to find threats that are already in place. However, information technology departments can potentially face many different threats. Even something as simple as safety alarms can help protect these organizations.

Restorative Methods

Information technology departments have to prepare for the possibility that they will not be able to catch all threats, and this is a reality for almost all of them. Having the right insurance policies is part of the picture here, especially given the importance of data in the modern world. Working with data recovery professionals who can fix damaged systems is also important.

Departments that have all of these different methods in place, or more, will be less likely to face truly devastating problems at any point.

3 Tasks You Can Take to Improve Your IBM i’s Security and Ease of Administration

By Dana Boehler

Securing an expansive platform like an IBM i system can be an intimidating task, a task that many times falls into the hands of a systems administrator when more specialized help is not available in-house. Deciding what tasks and projects will add value, while reducing administrative overhead, is also difficult. In this article I have chosen three things you can do in your environment that can get you started in ascending order of time and effort.

1. Run the ANZDFTPWD Command

Run the ANZDFTPWD command – This command checks the profiles on your system for passwords that are the same as the user profile name and outputs the list to a spooled file. Even on systems with well controlled *SECADM privileges (the special authority that allows a user to create and administer to user profiles), you will find user profiles that have either been created with or reset to have a password that is the same as the user profile name, which could provide an unauthorized user a method for gaining access to system resources. Additionally, the command has options to either disable or expire any user profiles found to have default passwords if desired.

2. Use SQL to Query Security Information from Library QSYS2

In recent updates to the supported IBM i OS versions, IBM made a very powerful set of tools available for querying live system and security data by using SQL statements. This allows users with the appropriate authority to create very specific reports on user profiles, group profiles, system values, audit journal data, authorization lists, PTF information and many other useful data points. These files in QSYS2 are table views directly accessing the information they are querying so the data is current every time a statement is run. One of the best things about creating output this way is there is no need for creating an outfile to query from or refresh re-querying. A detailed list of the information available and the necessary PTF and OS levels required to use these tools can be found here.

3. Implement a Role-based Security Scheme

The saying used to be the IBM i OS “is very secure”, but that statement has changed to the more accurate “is very securable”. This change in language reflects the reality that these systems are now very open to the world as shipped but can be one of the most secure systems when deployed with security in mind. For those who are not aware of role-based authority on IBM i, it is basically a way of restricting access to system resources using authorities derived from group profiles. Group profiles are created for functions within the organization, and then authorities are assigned to those group profiles. When a user profile is created it is configured with no direct access to objects on the system, instead group profiles are added to allow access to job functions. Although implementing role-based security may seem like a daunting task it pays huge dividends in ease of administration after the project is in place. For one thing having role-based security in place allows the administrator to quickly change security settings for whole groups of users at once when needed, instead of touching each user’s profile. It also allows for using group profiles as the object owners instead of individual user profiles, which means the process of removing users who create large numbers of objects or objects that are constantly locked is much easier. Using role-based security also relies on group profile for authority, so the likelihood of inadvertently granting a user too much or too little authority by copying another similar user is far less likely.

These a just a few of things you can do to get started securing your IBM i. In future posts, I intend to delve into more depth, especially regarding role-based security.

Guest Blogger

Dana Boehler is a Senior Systems Engineer at Rocket Software.

Cognitive Computing Overview

The field of cognitive computing continues to grow rapidly, best represented by IBM’s Watson platform. Cognitive computing includes elements of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and signal processing. It generally requires a large amount of processing power and software with learning capabilities. There are a number of important considerations about this technology.

Uses

Cognitive computing is used for a variety of different purposes. One popular use that is spreading wildly is for natural language chatbots and virtual assistants. These learn natural ways to respond to questions and find the best possible answer when humans answer them. Another important use is for cyber threat detection. AI software learn the rapidly evolving hacking techniques and pro-actively take steps to defend the network without any manual intervention. There are a number of other uses in the areas of medicine, finance, law and other areas.

New Solutions and Products

Cognitive solutions continue to evolve and transform. Companies like IBM, Amazon, Apple, HP, Google, Microsoft and others are creating powerful new features. The most common use is natural language processing. This has evolved into products like Amazon’s Echo, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google HomePod and others. These devices and software have a deep database that is constantly evolving based on the input from tens of millions of users. Over time, they become more sophisticated and useful at answering questions, providing services and organizing information.

What’s Next

This technology will continue to make more significant advances. Right now, scientists are using cognitive computing to try to predict ground breaking medical formulations. This will hopefully radically reduce the time and money required to create a new drug to cure disease. Physicists are also using this technology to compress huge amounts of data gathered from observing the universe. They are hoping the AI can make insights on the origins of galaxies, composition of dark matter and many other questions.