IBM z Systems as a Cloud Platform

DancingDinosaur wrote a long paper for an audience of x86 users. The premise of the paper: the z Systems in many cases could be a better and even lower cost alternative to x86 for a private or hybrid cloud. The following is an excerpt from that paper.

 cloud_computing_providers

BTW, IBM earlier this month announced it signed a 10-year, large-scale services agreement with Shop Direct to move the multi-brand digital retailer to a hybrid cloud model to increase flexibility and quickly respond to changes in demand as it grows, one of many such IBM wins recently. The announcement never mentioned Shop Direct’s previous platform. But it or any company in a similar position could have opted to build its own hybrid (private/public) cloud platform.

A hybrid cloud a company builds today probably runs on the x86 platform and the Windows OS. Other x86-based clouds run Linux. As demand for the organization’s hybrid cloud grows and new capabilities are added traffic increases.  The conventional response is to scale out or scale up, adding more or faster x86 processors to handle more workloads for more users.

So, why not opt for a hybrid cloud running on the z? As a platform, x86 is far from perfect; too unstable and insecure for starters. By adopting a zEC12 or a z13 to host your hybrid cloud you get one of the fastest general commercial processors in the market and the highest security rating for commercial servers, (EAL 5+). But most x86-oriented data centers would balk. Way too expensive would be their initial reaction. Even if they took a moment to look at the numbers their IT staff would be in open revolt and give you every reason it couldn’t work.

The x86 platform, however, is not nearly as inexpensive as it was believed, and there are many ways to make the z cost competitive. Due to the eccentricities of Oracle licensing on the z Systems, for instance, organizations often can justify the entire cost of the mainframe just from the annual Oracle software license savings. This can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more each year. And the entry level mainframe has a list price of $75,000, not much more than an x86 system of comparable MIPS. And that’s before you start calculating the cost of x86 redundancy, failover, and zero downtime that comes built into the mainframe or consider security. Plus with the z Systems Solution Edition program, IBM is almost giving the mainframe away for free.

Some x86 shops could think of the mainframe as a potent Linux machine that can handle thousands of Linux instances without breaking a sweat. The staff wouldn’t even have to touch z/OS. It also runs Java and Hadoop. And it delivers an astonishingly fast and efficient Linux environment that provides a level of performance that would require a much great number of x86 cores to try to match. And if you want to host an on-premises or hybrid cloud at enterprise scale it takes a lot of cores. The cost of acquiring all those x86 cores, deploying them, and managing them will break almost any budget.

Just ask Jim Tussing, Chief Technology Officer for infrastructure and operations at Nationwide Insurance (DancingDinosaur has covered Tussing before): “We had literally 3000 x86 servers deployed that were underutilized,” which is common in the x86 environment even with VMware or Hyper-V virtualization. At a time when Nationwide was seeking to increase the pace of innovation across its products and channels, but rolling out new environments were taking weeks or months to provision and deploy, again not unheard of in the x86 world. The x86 environment at Nationwide was choking the company.

So, Nationwide consolidated and virtualized as many x86 servers on a mainframe as possible, creating what amounted to an on-premises and hybrid cloud. The payoff: Nationwide reduced power, cooling, and floor space requirements by 80 percent. And it finally reversed the spiraling expenditure on its distributed server landscape, saving an estimated $15 million over the first three years, money it could redirect into innovation and new products. It also could provision new virtual server instances fast and tap the hybrid cloud for new capabilities.

None of this should be news to readers of DancingDinosaur. However some mainframe shops still face organizational resistance to mainframe computing. Hope this might help reinforce the z case.

DancingDinsosaur is Alan Radding, a long-time IT analyst/writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of my IT writing at Technologywriter.com and here.

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3 Responses to “IBM z Systems as a Cloud Platform”

  1. StevenDickens3 Says:

    Reblogged this on mainframedebate.

  2. Jeff MAURY Says:

    One question I have with Linux hosting on the mainframe: can you run x86 binaries or do you need to recompile you binaries ?

  3. insurance marketing Says:

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