While there certainly is interest in the z196, interest in the zBX, the extension cabinet for the zEnterprise, is lacking. Having interviewed a handful of z196 users recently none expressed any interest in the zBX.
IBM lists the planned availability date and other specs for the zBX Model 002 as Nov. 19, 2010, but it might as well be declared missing in action. IBM also notes Dec. 17 as the planned availability for the zBX Smart Analytics Optimizer blade. Let’s see what happens.
Without the zBX, the z196 is just an upgrade of the z10. It is the combination of the z196 with the Unified Resource Manager and the zBX populated with a variety of blades that delivers on the promise of a hybrid server , one which combines z, POWER, and x86 platforms for running a mix of z/OS, AIX, Linux, and, eventually, Windows workloads, all managed as a single virtual device.
A distinct lack of enthusiasm for the zBX may be the result of an unusual silence from IBM, rather than the typical cheerleading. The Nov. 19 availability date passed and now the Dec. 17 date approaches yet IBM remains surprisingly silent.
In an interview with banking industry writer Penny Crosman here Jai Menon, senior VP for IBM STG, the group where the z lives, talked about the zEnterprise vision and the zBX. He said: “One key thing that got announced along with the z196 was the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) companion technology that can hold blades of other architecture types like Intel x86 and Power blades.”
Large enterprises have multiple platforms: UNIX, Linux, AIX, Windows, z/OS. For these companies, Menon continued: “The direction we want to go is what we call Flex IT. How do I take a customer like that, that’s very diverse, has lots of different architectures, and create a system that integrates all their hardware, software and application needs without their having to migrate their existing applications or buy many different kinds of equipment? The vision we have is technology that will allow us to integrate all of that in a much smaller space.”
IBM’s response is the zEnterprise with the zBX. “Our vision says we’ll give you that same integration, even better density and a smaller data center footprint with incredible power improvements, but you don’t have to migrate your applications because in this architecture, your Z apps can run, your x86 apps can run, your Power apps can run, we can carve out so much of X, so much of P, so much of Z. In fact, when you buy the machine you don’t even think of it as a Z machine or an X or P machine. You buy the system, then you decide later how much of that will be X, P, or Z. You add more x86, more P, more Z, more network, more storage and memory capacity and flexibly allocate it amongst your apps,” Menon continued.
The zEnterprise with the zBX potentially delivers that kind of multi-architecture in-a-box. For Menon this is about more than supporting what’s already there. “You’ve got to have the architecture or system that supports not just legacy but also what you don’t even know is coming,” he noted.
Swiss Re became the first publicly announced z196 user for this reason. In the press announcement, Swiss Re CIO Markus Schmid noted: “The overall performance increase of the z196 is extremely impressive. However, the key benefit of the zEnterprise System will be the ability to integrate and manage workloads running on multiple servers as multiple servers as a single system.”
In theory the zEnterprise/zBX is a fine idea. But how well it actually works in practice remains to be seen. IBM is only just starting to deliver the blades to populate the zBX. It has not announced pricing. And there is no real-world performance data.
More importantly, IBM hasn’t developed the critical zBX back stories that are essential if IT managers are to understand the value and sell the idea into their enterprises. So, many early z196 adopters simply are using it as an upgrade to the z10, what amounts to a z11. Until IBM fills in the blanks the lack of enthusiasm around the zBX will continue.