Understanding the Key Differences: RACF vs. ACF2 – Choosing the Right

Understanding the Key Differences: RACF vs. ACF2 – Choosing the Right

In the world of enterprise security, two prominent access control systems have emerged as industry standards: RACF which stands for Resource Access Control Facility and ACF2, short for Access Control Facility. RACF and ACF2 are both mainframe security applications that were intended to control access to valuable resources in such systems. However, recognizing the most significant differences between these two systems is essential to make the right decision in terms of selecting the adequate option for the organization.

RACF is a security management system that was invented by IBM chief for the purpose of providing security to the z/OS based systems and resources. It has a complete list of features that include the user security and management, access control of resources, security audit and reporting. RACF is used in several industries, especially those that heavily use the mainframe computing systems.

On the other hand, ACF2 stands for Anda Control Facility for the second generation the security management system owned by Broadcom formerly CA Technologies. ACF2 is similar to RACF in that is also intended for the protection of mainframe resources in terms of access, but it is a different system with different functions. ACF2 has always been highly valued for its flexibility in terms of available settings, fine-grained access control and extensive auditing features.

Key Differences between RACF and ACF2

When it comes to choosing between RACF and ACF2, several key differences must be considered:

  1. Security Features:
    1. RACF has the primary target of mainframe security and features like user authentication, access control, and auditing.
    2. ACF2 provides greater security options as compared to other products in the market such as access control, dynamic security and threats audit capabilities among others.
  2. Ease of Use:
    1. Administrators, in particular, have an impression that RACF is more difficult to manage than TSS, and its utilization entails a steeper learning curve.
    2. Overall, it is said that ACF2 is easier to use and to set up and manage than RACF, especially for organizations which do not use mainframes intensively.
  3. Scalability:
    1. The system is very scalable that can accommodate many users and resources that may be desirable for large enterprises with complex mainframe systems.
    2. ACF2 also has good scalability but may provide worse performance due to the number of security settings or/and users and resources.
  4. Performance:
    1. RACF has a reputation for running fast especially in large scale usage since it is seamlessly designed to work with the z/OS operating systems.
    2. There could be certain performance cost in ACF2, depending on the depth of the security policy implemented or in organizations with a large number of users and other resources.
  5. Compatibility:
    1. RACF is fully integrated with the z/OS operating system and it is the native security product of IBM z series mainframe.
    2. ACF2 is an external product and can be installed as an addition to the systems of various mainframes, including z/OS, and may need tweaks and adjustments.
  6. Cost Considerations:
    1. It is important to note that RACF is normally preloaded on z/OS hence; it comes with the basic mainframe system cost, which entails not only the purchase price but also the yearly maintenance expenses.
    2. ACF2 is a different product and therefore it may have its own license and maintenance costs, which could be considered as a part of security expenses.

Security Features of RACF

RACF is the security management tool that safeguards mainframe resources and it has many security features to provide security. Some of the key security features of RACF include:

  1. User Authentication: The program also offers flexible user authentication such as passwords, two-factor authentication, and digital certificates.
  2. Access Control: With RACF, there are numerous options for access controls, which enable you to set precise permissions for users, groups, and resources, so only those with the right permissions have access to the necessary data and applications.
  3. Audit and Logging: The level of logging in RACF is very high, and these logs can be used to monitor user activities, identify security breaches, and demonstrate compliance to external auditors.
  4. Resource Protection: By implementing RACF, one can be able to guard all major mainframe assets such as datasets, programs, terminals and any other level of system entity in order to control access to these assets.
  5. Security Policy Management: Security management is also a unified one at RACF since it makes it possible for the mainframe environment security policies that have been put in place to be managed centrally.

Security Features of ACF2

As well as an advanced Client Server for financials, ACF2 is also a powerful security management system that has many security components. Some of the key security features of ACF2 include:

  1. Granular Access Control: ACF2 is one of the most detailed access control models which means that it gives the possibility to define the access right for the definite user, group, and resource.
  2. Dynamic Security Rules: The ACF2 supports dynamic security rules that can be modified using parameters or environment changes, user activity, or threats.
  3. Threat Detection: Some of the enhanced related threat detection features in ACF2 are anomaly detection and behavioral analysis for addressing any security threats in real-time.
  4. Comprehensive Auditing: ACF2 delivers powerful audit and logging capabilities, allowing an organization to record user activities and generate reports that can help them to meet compliance with different regulations.
  5. Flexible Integration: It can be interfaced with a multitude of mainframe and other non-mainframe products, enabling organizations to build on what they already have in the way of security software and hardware.

Performance Comparison between RACF and ACF2

When it comes to performance, both RACF and ACF2 have their strengths and weaknesses:

RACF Performance:

  • RACF is directly interfaced with the operating system z/OS in a way that gives it full access to the underlying hardware and software to optimize the performance of RACF well.
  • It is also important to note that RACF is designed to work well in very large scale mainframe environments, dealing with extremely large volumes of work without showing a marked loss in performance.
  • The reliability and stability of using RACF is seen to be comparatively less fluctuating and better in areas such as access control and user authentication.

ACF2 Performance:

  • However, it has been reported that ACF2 can be a little more vulnerable to the complexity of the adopted security settings and the number of users and resources to register.
  • Still, as we have seen in large environments with a high number of security rules, dynamic security updates, or extensive auditing, ACF2 may pose some performance overhead.
  • However, ACF2 also contains capabilities to incorporate optimized caching and advanced concepts to overcome performance issues in intensive security domains.

At the same time, ACF2 has a number of advantages over RACF: While RACF has limitations in scalability and may slow down the system, ACF2 can scale up and down with no problem while continuing to offer powerful functionality to support the business.

Scalability Comparison between RACF and ACF2

Both RACF and ACF2 are designed to scale to meet the needs of large enterprises, but there are some differences in their scalability capabilities:

RACF Scalability:

  • The tested RACF solution is scalable as it can support a large number of users, resources, and security configurations at a reasonable rate of efficiency.
  • Due to the deep integration of RACF with z/OS, it is possible to note that the work of this system is more efficient and uses the hardware and software resources of the base platform more effectively.
  • Scalability is especially advantageous in the case of the RACF as it is effective for organisations with a large mainframe environment and many users and resources.

ACF2 Scalability:

  • ACF2 also provides good scalability, however it may be more impacted by the intricacy of the security settings and the number of users and/or objects that need to be handled.
  • It is scalable to accommodate hundreds of thousands of users and resources Although ACF2 can scale up to accommodate hundreds of thousands of users and resources, organizations with highly complex security needs or a very large mainframe environment may need to monitor its performance.
  • With regard to scalability, it is noted that further improvements could be achieved with the help of complex cache and optimization options, as well as by utilizing the infrastructure of the mainframe platform.

Cost Considerations for RACF and ACF2

When choosing between RACF and ACF2, the cost implications are an important factor to consider:

RACF Cost:

  • In most cases, RACF comes with the z/OS operating system, so the company may not have to worry about extra licensing fees or maintenance costs associated with mainframe infrastructure.
  • Companies that are already using a mainframe z/OS environment might find that the cost of RACF is already included in their initial investment on mainframe.

ACF2 Cost:

  • ACF2 is a distinct program, and its price for licensing and maintenance should be taken into account when defining the expenses on security.
  • ACF2 is not necessarily free, and its cost varies according to the number of users, the level of security settings, and extra functionalities like integration and adaptation.
  • ACF2 may be a less attractive option for organizations that do not currently have a mainframe environment or those that are seeking an alternative to RACF but are willing to pay a third-party vendor for its support may need to assess the cost of ACF2 in relation to the total price tag of managing the mainframe environment and RACF.

Factors to Consider When Choosing between RACF and ACF2

When deciding between RACF and ACF2, consider the following factors:

  • Security Requirements: Determine the type of security your organization requires, for instance the level of security on access, on threats and on audits.
  • Existing Mainframe Environment: In case you are already in a mainframe scenario with z/OS then it may be easier and cheaper to implement RACF.
  • Mainframe Expertise: Evaluate your organization and decide whether its mainframe experience requires the deeper functionality of RACF or the easier to use ACF2.
  • Scalability and Performance: Take into consideration the size and the growth expectations of the mainframes that you operate, and select the solution that will meet your scalability and performance expectations.
  • Integration and Compatibility: Also, consider how RACF and ACF2 will fit your current security solution and other applications on the mainframe.
  • Cost and Budget: Be very cautious when comparing the costs of licensing and maintaining RACF and ACF2 and the costs of implementing these solutions in relation to your organizational security budget and total IT expenses.

Case Studies: Companies that Use RACF or ACF2

Company A (RACF User): A large financial institution that has a huge mainframe infrastructure and a strong staff of mainframe system administrators also decided to deploy RACF as its main security management system. The organization appreciated how RACF operated closely with z/OS, the strong security it offered, and that through previous usage, the organization had witnessed its ability to scale up to work on large volumes of work and accommodate many users. The IT team also stated that RACF was easy to learn and the experience they gained managing mainframes allowed them to efficiently manage and maintain the security system.

Company B (ACF2 User): One example of ACF2 implementation involved a mid-sized manufacturing company with increasing mainframe usage as the company’s main product; here, the company chose ACF2 as its security management system. The organization was drawn to ACF2 because of its customizable features, especially the ease of use, detailed access rights, and sophisticated security monitoring functions. This provided the IT team with the ability to rapidly configure and install ACF2 despite having scant mainframe knowledge, which can be attributed to the product’s easily navigated administration and ample documentation. They also valued that ACF2 was not an inflexible system, which can be easily implemented into their current mainframe security environment and can grow in tandem with the growth of the mainframe environment.

Conclusion: Choosing the Right Option for Your Organization

Thus, the decision to choose RACF or ACF2 can not be considered as the final, universal one. It should be an informed based on the organization’s security needs, current mainframe setup, existing IT staff skills and available resources.

If it is crucial for the RACF to be fully integrated into the z/OS operating system, have extensive security measures, and have already demonstrated effectiveness in a mainframe environment with a large number of requests, then RACF would be more suitable. On the other hand, if you are looking for a solution that is easy to use, has great flexibility in the access control system, and provides detailed threat detection, then ACF2 will be a preferable option for your organization.

In conclusion, choosing between RACF and ACF2 depends on the organization’s requirements and a comparison of the abilities and disadvantages of both security management systems concerning performance, flexibility, and costs.

Try RACF or ACF2 now and populate your mainframe with enterprise-level security within the first week of usage. Contact our team today and let us help you find out the most suitable solution for your business.

Written by Avatier Office