Most IT analysts scoff at the notion of the mainframe as a player in cloud computing. For them, the cloud is a game for massive aggregations of cheap x86-based servers. A recent paper from IBM, however, suggests otherwise. It found that “a shared all-Linux platform running z/VM virtualization is an excellent environment for efficiently using CPU, memory, and I/O to manage thousands of concurrent desktop users.”
At the heart of the IBM paper is the notion of the z as a cloud-like host for thousands of virtualized desktops (VDI, virtual desktop interface) through an open source technology called eyeOS. eyeOS enables an entire system to run in and through the web browser. Users run only a web browser to work with eyeOS and its applications, which run in a System z-based private cloud.
This was first introduced by IBM last December during the Solution Edition for Cloud Computing announcement. It was presented initially as a way to provide large System z-based enterprises with the automation and management framework necessary to get started with cloud computing. With eyeOS the System z can enable thousands of Linux on z users to run their applications through their browser and do so with the security, resiliency, security, and manageability of the z.
As explained on its website, eyeOS itself is an open source web desktop based on the cloud computing concept. It is written in PHP and XML and acts as a platform for web applications written using the eyeOS Toolkit. It includes a Desktop environment with 67 applications and system utilities and can run across all IBM platforms in a native LAMP stack that includes the System z.
What eyeOS does is allow an organization to use its z to virtualize thousands of individual desktops, basically VDI through the z. VDI has long been an attractive idea, especially for large organizations that have thousands of desktop systems to be managed, patched, secured, made reliable, and otherwise supported. Even with remote software distribution and tools to manage individual user desktops over the network, end user computing has always been a costly, problematic challenge.
The VDI concept–consolidate all those desktops as images on a centralized server–has great appeal. Just substitute cheap thin-client devices for all those fat, costly client desktops and experience savings from lower cost hardware and centralized desktop management while getting more reliable and more secure desktop computing.
The problem with VDI, however, is the lack of ROI. The savings disappear because the organization needs to acquire, deploy, and support dozens if not hundreds of powerful, richly configured high end servers to accommodate hundreds or, more likely, thousands of desktop users.
With eyeOS, IBM is suggesting that a z10 can effectively handle thousands of desktop users when running Linux on a System z where many eyeOS desktop images can be supported by a single Linux guest. Or as the IBM researcher put it: a single Linux guest container [under z/VM] can support thousands of clients, rather than requiring one Linux guest per client. And if the z10 is a the new, discounted Solution Edition Linux Enterprise Server the ROI comes fast, along with all the other operational benefits the z brings.
Make no mistake, this is a cloud computing strategy. As the researchers concluded: “System z virtualization technology through the Linux and z/VM products enable this virtual desktop environment to perform and scale to higher numbers of CPs very well at high CPU utilization. System z is well positioned to be a key player in the emerging cloud computing growth markets (including data cloud, developer cloud, and public sector cloud) because it is able to support thousands of concurrent virtual clients.”
So, can your organization capture ROI from turning the z into a VDI cloud?