Windows for IBM zEnterprise/zBX

Last week IBM published a general statement of direction, not an actual product announcement, that essentially said the zEnterprise will run Windows in the 4th quarter via an x blade for the zBX. The announcement reads, in part, “IBM intends to offer select IBM System x blades running Microsoft Windows in the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension Model 002.”

Along with the announcement came the usual disclaimer: “IBM’s plans, directions, and intent are subject to change or withdrawal without notice. Any reliance on these statements of general direction is at the relying party’s sole risk and will not create liability or obligation for IBM.”

This isn’t exactly new. IBM has been hinting about this since the zEnterprise announcement last July although it refrained from making any statement that might legally commit them to anything. DancingDinosaur has been writing about it for about as long. Here is a Windows on z piece from earlier this year.

Windows on z (or the zBX as is the case here) raises some interesting issues. Of immediate interest is the question of which Windows workloads might be best moved to the zEnterprise. Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SharePoint, probably the company’s two most popular enterprise server applications, are good bets to stay where they are and not move to the z.

Similarly, the Microsoft Office Suite will stay where it is unless someone wants to attempt to virtualize a slew of Office desktops on a handful of zBX IBM x blades as a VDI play. Without knowing the performance and pricing details of the zBX System x blades it is impossible to intelligently make such decisions.

In response to which workloads, IBM’s reply is as follows: Enterprise clients with one or more applications running in a complex, heterogeneous, multi-tiered environment have the opportunity to upgrade that infrastructure with zEnterprise and enjoy the management benefits that the Unified Resource Manager brings. The most likely candidates are those Windows apps that make use of data or processing residing on the z. This is IBM’s basic fit-for-purpose strategy.

IBM also is not expecting a wholesale migration of Windows servers to the z. Again, the IBM spokesman explains: Many of the largest data centers already have far more blades and/or rack-mounted servers in their inventory than could realistically fit into the zBX.

What IBM does hope for, according to the spokesman, are workloads that rely on System z for data serving and application components, whether it is DB2 for z/OS, IMS, CICS, WebSphere, or even Oracle. In addition, they are workloads that require the strength of System z but often have application components on Power or Intel that are required to complete the end-to-end business process. Clients who have applications running in these two- or three-tier environments may be ideal candidates for zEnterprise running the new System x blades.

Beyond these basic fit-for-purpose statements IBM isn’t saying much about blade pricing, performance, or software licensing. This serves two purposes for IBM: 1) it avoids promises to which it might be held, and probably as importantly, 2) it freezes the competitive market. Multi-platform, multi-tier enterprises considering an upgrade of their Windows servers to the latest offerings from HP or Oracle (Sun) or others now know this option is coming in the fourth quarter and may wait until they see the pricing, licensing, and performance details.

With the System x blades running Windows as well as Linux IBM indeed can make a strong case for IT recentralizationg on the zEnterprise, especially for multi-tier, multi-platform enterprises. This case will be based on the zEnterprise’s centralized management efficiency, the potential for greater optimization, and the resulting performance improvements. It’s a good story that could catch on if IBM keeps the pricing competitive.

Upcoming pieces here will take up the corporate politics implications of such a recentralization effort. 

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