Addressing zBX Concerns

DancingDinosaur has been looking into user interest in the zBX almost since its introduction well over a year ago. Over that time adoption has grown from an initial handful to more than 125 devices this spring. While the devices aren’t exactly flying out the door, IBM has evolved it in ways that generally boosts its appeal.

For example, IBM improved its efforts at publicizing use cases. It is not intuitively obvious what a z data center would want to do with the device. IBM also has taken some baby steps in lowering the overall cost, mainly with a promotional deal for free blades—DancingDinosaur described it here—and by incorporating zBX discounts in System z Solution Edition packages. In fact a few of the Solution Edition deals offer what should become popular zBX use cases, specifically for the Enterprise Linux Server, GDPS, and SAP. Finally, the z114 provides a low cost first step to the zBX.

The introduction of Windows on x blades for the zBX also should boost the appeal of the device. DancingDinosaur spoke with several  recent zBX adopters who cited the availability of Windows as a key factor.

On the other hand, the elimination of the Smart Analytics Optimizer as a blade for the zBX has diminished the interest of others. The replacement, Netezza, entails different adoption and deployment case. It is not automatic to jump from the Smart Analytics Optimizer as a zBX blade to the Netezza appliance.

DancingDinosaur has spent the past few months speaking with mainframe data center managers about their concerns with the zBX. Below is a sample of their responses.

Cost, of course, is always an issue. This is how one IT manager put it: Even though the zBX represents a significant technological breakthrough, it is not clear to us whether it currently represents a sufficient financial breakthrough as to justify its introduction here at this time. He is waiting for either a compelling deal or a compelling use case.

Another issue is the alternative of continuing to run AIX, Windows, and Linux on their usual platforms. As one manager noted:  We opted to run AIX and Windows server applications on boards inserted into rack mounted servers. If we wanted blades we would just as likely use  a stand-alone Blade Center server, which costs a lot less than a zBX.

Some IT managers simply didn’t want to ignite a  platform war among the IT staff. Moving to a zBX implies consolidating at least some Windows, Linux, and AIX workloads on blades in the zBX. To undertake what might turn into a bitter political fight they need an indisputable business case and a top executive willing to lead the battle.

Even managers who are holding off on the zBX decision see advantages to the zBX and hybrid computing. Three in particular come up:

  1. Mainframe reliability and availability—they have Windows applications that suffer from downtime.  Running within the zBX under the zManager enables these applications to easily fail over to another virtualized server, thereby avoiding troublesome and costly downtime. Of course, they could assemble a failover architecture on their own but it would unlikely be as bullet-proof as what they get out of the box with the zEnterprise.  This alone might justify the investment.
  2. Staffing versatility—today most data center staff have platform-specific skills.  The zManager enables an administrator to attend to the full range of platforms through a single tool.  As IBM adds management expertise and automation it has developed for PureSystems to the zManager it should help to reduce the labor overhead associated with supporting the different environments. Again, the savings on staffing can go a long way toward justifying the zBX investment.
  3. Simplified backup and recovery—it is not a sure thing to backup and reliably recover a mix of virtualized and non-virtualized Windows systems plus Linux applications running on x-based servers. GDPS, available at a Solution Edition discount,  now can backup and recover the zEnterprise, zBX, and all the blades it contains fast and with confidence.

There are more advantages to zEnterprise-zBX hybrid computing than the three noted above. Watch for an upcoming Independent Assessment white paper that lays it all out. Similarly, concerns revolving around cost can be addressed—IBM has signaled in numerous ways that it is willing to deal. The immediate issue comes down to pulling together that first business case and making it a compelling one.

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