Posts Tagged ‘zBX’

Latest BMC Mainframe Survey Points to Bright System z Future

September 27, 2013

BMC Software released its 8th annual mainframe survey, and the results shouldn’t surprise any readers of DancingDinosaur. Get a copy of the results here. The company surveyed over 1000 managers and executives at mainframe shops around the world, mostly BMC customers.  Guess you shouldn’t be surprised at how remarkably traditional the respondents’ attitudes about the mainframe are.

For example, of the new areas identified by IBM as hot—mobile, cloud, big data, social business—cloud, big data, and mobile barely registered and social was nowhere to be seen.  Cloud was listed as one of the top four priorities by 19% of the respondents. Big data was listed as one of the top priorities for the coming year by only 18% of the respondents, the same as mobile.  The only topic that was less of a priority was outsourcing at 15%.

So what were the main priorities? The top four:

  • IT cost reduction—85% of respondents
  • Application availability—66%
  • Business/IT alignment—50%
  • Application modernization—50%

Where the researchers did drill down into one of the new areas of focus, big data, the biggest number of respondents, 31%, reported identifying the business use case as their biggest challenge. Other challenges were the cost of transforming/loading mainframe data to a centralized data warehouse (24%) followed by the effort such a transformation required (20%).  Another 11% noted the lack of ETL tools for business analytics.  Ten percent cited lack of knowledge about mainframe data content—huh? That might have been the one thing DancingDinosaur found truly surprising, although without knowing the specific job titles or job descriptions it might not be so surprising after all.

When it came to big data, 28% of the respondents expected to move mainframe data off the mainframe for analytics. An almost equal number (27%) expected the mainframe to act as the big data analytic engine.  Another 12% reported federating data to an off platform analytics engine. Three percent reported Linux on z for hosting the unstructured data.

Moving data off the mainframe for big data analytics can be a slow and costly strategy. One of the benefits of doing big data on the System z or the hybrid zEnterprise/zBX is taking advantage of the proximity of the data. Moving petabytes or even terabytes of data is not a trivial undertaking. For all the hype it’s clear that big data as a business strategy is still in its infancy with much left to be learned.  It will be interesting to see what this survey turns up a few years from now.

Otherwise, the survey results are very supportive to those who are fighting the seemingly perpetual battle of the mainframe as an end-of-life technology.  Almost all the respondents (93%) considered the mainframe a long-term business strategy while almost half (49%) felt the mainframe will continue to grow and attract new workloads.

Some other tidbits from the survey:

  • 70% of respondents said the mainframe will have a key role in Big Data plans.
  • 76% of large shops expect MIPS capacity to grow as they modernize and add applications to address business needs. (This highlights the need for software that minimizes expensive MIPS consumption and exploits the mainframe’s cost-efficient specialty engines.)

No large shops anyway—and only 7% of all respondents—have plans to eliminate their mainframe environment. Glad it’s not worse.

Lastly, there still is time to register for IBM’s Enterprise 2013 conference in Orlando. It will combine the System z and the Power Systems technical universities with an Executive Summit.  The session programs already are out for the System z and Power Systems tracks. Check out the System z overview here and the Power Systems overview here. DancingDinosaur will be there. In the coming weeks this blog will look more closely some intriguing sessions.

BTW–please follow DancingDinosaur at its new name on Twitter, @mainframeblog

Mantissa z86VM Virtualization Leverages IBM zEC12 and z/VM

September 19, 2013

Jim Porell, formerly an IBM Distinguished Engineer with hefty System z credentials, has been pushing the idea of running large numbers of cheap virtualized x86 virtual systems on the zEnterprise for over a year, when DancingDinosaur covered the announcement of his STASH initiative then. Now he is working with Mantissa, known mainly as a provider of mainframe emulation products, on its latest product, z86VM, announced here.

Mantissa z86VM promises to simplify cloud deployment while dramatically reducing virtual image costs by potentially virtualizing thousands of x86 VMs on a zEC12 z/VM partition.  Porell actually isn’t ready to estimate how many until he has done more testing. At this point, all Mantissa is promising is a system that permits you to create virtual x86 machines for use as servers or desktop systems in minutes.

As Porell puts it: existing IBM zEnterprise server customers already have the capacity to run hundreds or thousands of virtual x86 machines. Now he invites DancingDinosaur readers (and anyone else) to try a free version of the z86VM beta software—to become a beta participant, send a request using this form and z86VM Beta as the subject. This will let you try out the latest version and see for yourself. The current beta ships with Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) Linux. SME Server is a CentOS Linux distribution specifically optimized and configured for use as web, file, email, and database servers. It employs a comprehensive browser UI for all management-related tasks.

Specifically Mantissa’s z86VM provides a 32-bit virtual x86 environment which cannot be distinguished by software from real x86 hardware. That means operating systems like Linux for x86 or Windows will run without alteration under IBM z/VM. An important aspect of this virtual operating environment is that no changes are required to move 32-bit x86 operating systems and applications to the z86VM environment. Current test projection modeling shows that up to 50,000 virtual images may be able to operate efficiently on a fully configured zEnterprise server.  But Porell is not quite ready to promise that.

Mantissa hopes to tie z86VM to cloud computing. “Cloud computing, server consolidation, virtual desktops, security, and resilience are all important considerations for customers of the zEnterprise server,” said Gary Dennis, co-Founder, Mantissa, in the beta announcement. “Most x86 virtualization deployments waste 25- 50% of all available hardware capacity.  The z86VM approach can’t do that because there is no real machine,” he add. Actually, there is a real machine underlying the system, currently the zEC12 or, presumably, any other zEnterprise.

Pricing for z86VM when it is released hasn’t been formalized. “My expectation is we will charge per engine, a la zLinux pricing. However, it may be more like z/VM or VMware pricing,” says Porell. The bigger difference is that there should be many more x86 images per core than you’d see with a conventional x86 system. Since the z can run at 100% utilization without fear of failover, Porell expects to squeeze more systems onto each core, which will reduce application and operating system fees where pricing is based on actual cores.

Hybrid computing looms large in Porell and Mantissa’s hopes for z86VM.  For hybrid computing the z86VM can use the same software binary images as other platforms, Porell explains. It should speed the time to deploy those workloads as no new software versions need to be acquired or developed  while providing an ability to further reduce software license costs, environmental costs, operational expense, and complexity, he continues.

In addition, the z/VM hypervisor already is capable of running thousands of virtual system images in a single server. Most of the redundancy necessary for business resilience, fault isolation and disaster recovery is built into the z and the z/VM hypervisor. The z 86VM takes advantage of the z/VM hypervisor to provide the security functionality that isolates one virtual guest from another in such a way that bad behavior by one cannot compromise the execution or data associated with another.

At this point z86VM is looking mostly like a zEnterprise hybrid computing play.  Whether z86VM offers significant benefits beyond what you can do with a hybrid zEnterprise and z/VM will be seen what happens in the beta program, what other business compute needs they address, what they decide with pricing.

Also, hope you will register for Enterprise 2013 in Orlando, Oct 21-25. It will combine the System z and the Power Systems technical universities with an Executive Summit.  The session programs already are out for the System z and Power Systems tracks; registration has already started. Check it out here. DancingDinosaur will be there. In the coming weeks this blog will look more closely intriguing sessions.

BTW–follow DancingDinosaur at its new name on Twitter, @mainframeblog

New zEnterprise Business Class Entry Model—zBC12

July 23, 2013

IBM introduced its new zEnterprise Business Class machine, the equivalent of the z114 for the zEC12, the zEnterprise BC12 (zBC12).  It offers significantly more power than its predecessor but the $75,000 base price hasn’t changed.

The company has been hinting at the arrival of this machine for months (and DancingDinosaur has been passing along those hints as quickly as they came). Of particular interest is that the System z Solution Edition pricing applies to the zBC12. Solution Edition pricing should make the machine quite competitive with x86-based systems, especially when running multiple Linux instances.

IBM isn’t being coy about its intentions to discount this machine. The initial announcement touted a new Linux-only based version of the zBC12, the Enterprise Linux Server (ELS). The ELS includes hardware, the z/VM Hypervisor, and three years of maintenance at a deeply discounted price. Besides over 3,000 Linux applications it includes two new capabilities, ELS for Analytics and Cloud-Ready for Linux on System z, each acting as an onramp for analytics or cloud computing.

DancingDinosaur has been a big fan of the Solution Edition program as the only way to get serious discounts on a mainframe. The big caveat is the constraints IBM puts on the use of the discounted machine. Each Solution Edition program is negotiated so just make sure you fully understand the constraints and all the fine print so you can live with it for several years. Of course, a zBC12 can be used for anything you would use a mainframe although enterprise Linux serving seems  an ideal use.

Besides its faster processor the zBC12 also offers up 156 capacity settings on each model  to choose just the right capacity setting for your needs along with a new pay-as-you-grow approach. When it is integrated with the IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator, the zBC12 can perform business analytics workloads with10x better price performance and 14 percent lower total cost of acquisition than the closest competitor, according to IBM.

Out of the box the zBC12 specs look good:

  • 4.2 GHz processor designed to deliver up to a 36% performance increase per core to help boost software performance for business-critical workloads
  • Up to six general purpose processors designed to deliver up to 58% more capacity compared to the z114, which had five general purpose processors
  • Up to a 2x increase in available memory (496 GB) compared to the z114 for improved performance of memory-demanding workloads such as DB2, IBM WebSphere, and Linux on System z

The zBC12 comes in two models, the H06 and H13. Both are air cooled, single frame, or support 30 LPARS. The H06 has one processor drawer for 9 processor units. These can be divided between SAPs, CPs, IFLs/ICFs, zIIPs and zAAPs, and 1 IFP.  The Model H113 has two processor drawers to handle 18 processor units. It allows the same mix of processor types but in larger quantities and 2 dedicated spares. There are configurations where the H06 requires the second processor drawer. The entry processing level is 50 MIPS, up from 26 MIPS with the z114 with no change in the base price.

As far as other pricing, the zBC12 follows essentially an extension of the z114 stack pricing with a 27% price/performance improvement over the z114 for specialty engine pricing, which translates in 36% greater performance for the money.  Pricing for maintenance remains the same. Software keeps with the same pricing curve with a 5% discount applied. The price of Flash Express for the zBC12 remains at $125,000.

IBM has provided a straightforward upgrade path from the z10 or zEnterprise to the zBC12 as well as from the zBC12 to the zEC12. It also can be connected to the zBX (Model 003) to seamlessly manage workloads across a hybrid computing environment consisting of multiple architectures (Linux, AIX, and Intel/Windows).

The announcement of the zBC12 was accompanied by a slew of other new z announcements, including the new IBM zEnterprise Analytics System 9710,and native JSON support to bridge the gap between mobile devices and enterprise data and services along with conversion between JSON  and the new CICS Transaction Server Feature Pack for Mobile Extensions V1.0 and DB2 11 for z/OS (ESP).  Plus there is the new z/VM v6.3 and enhancements to the z/OS Management Facility.

As DancingDinosaur noted last week, expect z sales to get a boost in the next quarter or two as organizations choose the new zBC12. With its improved price/performance and low entry pricing and the Solution Edition deal for the zBC12 ELS the z should see a nice bounce.

Winning the Talent War with the System z

January 17, 2013

The next frontier in the ongoing talent war, according to McKinsey, will be deep analytics, a critical weapon required to probe big data in the competition underpinning new waves of productivity, growth, and innovation. Are you ready to compete and win in this technical talent war?

Similarly, Information Week contends that data expertise is called for to take advantage of data mining, text mining, forecasting, and machine learning techniques. The System z data center is ideally is ideally positioned to win if you can attract the right talent.

Finding, hiring, and keeping good talent within the technology realm is the number one concern cited by 41% of senior executives, hiring managers, and team leaders responding to the latest Harris Allied Tech Hiring and Retention Survey. Retention of existing talent was the next biggest concern, cited by 19.1%.

This past fall, CA published the results of its latest mainframe survey that came to similar conclusions. It found three major trends on the current and future role of the mainframe:

  1. The mainframe is playing an increasingly strategic role in managing the evolving needs of the enterprise
  2. The mainframe as an enabler of innovation as big data and cloud computing transform the face of enterprise IT
  3. Demand for tech talent with cross-disciplinary skills to fill critical mainframe workforce needs in this new view of enterprise IT

Among the respondents to the CA survey, 76% of global respondents believe their organizations will face a shortage of mainframe skills in the future, yet almost all respondents, 98%, felt their organizations were moderately or highly prepared to ensure the continuity of their mainframe workforce. In contrast, only 8% indicated having great difficulty finding qualified mainframe talent while 61% reported having some difficulty in doing so.

The Harris survey was conducted in September and October 2012. Its message is clear: Don’t be fooled by the national unemployment figures, currently hovering above 8%.  “In the technology space in particular, concerns over the ability to attract game-changing talent has become institutional and are keeping all levels of management awake at night,” notes Harris Allied Managing Director Kathy Harris.

The reason, as suggested in recent IBM studies, is that success with critical new technologies around big data, analytics, cloud computing, social business, virtualization, and mobile increasingly are giving top performing organizations their competitive advantage. The lingering recession, however, has taken its toll; unless your data center has been charged to proactively keep up, it probably is saddled with 5-year old skills at best; 10-year old skills more likely.

The Harris study picked up on this. When asking respondents the primary reason they thought people left their organization, 20% said people left for more exciting job opportunities or the chance to get their hands on some hot new technology.

Some companies recognize the problem and belatedly are trying to get back into the tech talent race. As Harris found when asking about what companies are doing to attract this kind of top talent 38% said they now were offering great opportunities for career growth. Others, 28%, were offering opportunities for professional development to recruit top tech pros. A fewer number, 24.5%, were offering competitive compensation packages while fewer still, 9%, offering competitive benefits packages.

To retain the top tech talent they already had 33.6% were offering opportunities for professional development, the single most important strategy they leveraged to retain employees. Others, 24.5%, offered opportunities for career advancement while 23.6% offered competitive salaries. Still a few hoped a telecommuting option or competitive bonuses would do the trick.

Clearly mainframe shops, like IT in general, are facing a transition as Linux, Java, SOA, cloud computing, analytics, big data, mobile, and social play increasing roles in the organization, and the mainframe gains the capabilities to play in all these arenas. Traditional mainframe skills like CICS are great but it’s just a start. At the same time, hybrid systems and expert integrated systems like IBM PureSystems and zEnterprise/zBX give shops the ability to tap a broader array of tech talent.

System z Clouds Pay Off

January 9, 2013

From its introduction last August, IBM has aimed the zEC12 at cloud use cases, especially private clouds. The zEC12’s massive virtualization capabilities make it possible to handle private cloud environments consisting of thousands of distributed systems running Linux on zEC12.

One zEC12, notes IBM, can encompass the capacity of an entire multi-platform data center in a single system. The newest z also enables organizations to run conventional IT workloads and private cloud applications on one system.  If you are looking at a zEC12 coupled with the zBX you can have a hybrid private cloud running Linux, Windows, and AIX workloads.

There are three main reasons why z-based data centers should consider a private cloud:

  1. The z does it so naturally and seamlessly
  2. It boosts IT efficiency, mainly through user self service
  3. It increases enterprise agility, especially when it comes to provisioning and deploying IT resources and applications fast

Organizations everywhere are adopting private clouds (probably because C-level execs are more comfortable with private cloud security).  The Open Data Center Alliance reports faster private cloud adoption than originally predicted. Over half its survey respondents will be running more than 40% of their IT operations in private clouds by 2015.

Mainframes make a particularly good private cloud choice. Nationwide, the insurance company, consolidated 3000 distributed servers to Linux virtual servers running on a variety of z mainframes, creating a multi-platform private mainframe cloud optimized for its different workloads. The goal was to improve efficiency.

Nationwide initially intended to isolate its Linux and z/OS workloads on different physical mainframes. This resulted in a total of seven machines – a mixture of z9 and z10 servers – of which two were dedicated to Linux. To optimize this footprint, however, Nationwide ended up consolidating all workloads to four IBM zEnterprise 196 servers and two z10 servers, putting Linux and z/OS workloads on the same machines because its confidence level with Linux on the mainframe and the maturity of the platform made the Nationwide IT team comfortable mixing workloads.

The key benefit of this approach was higher utilization and better economies of scale, effectively making the mainframes into a unified private cloud—a single set of resources, managed with the same tools but optimized for a variety of workloads. The payback:  elimination of both capital and operational expenditures, expected to save about $15 million over three years. The more compact and efficient zEnterprise landscape also means low costs in the future. Specifically, Nationwide is realizing an 80% reduction in power, cooling and floor space despite an application workload that is growing 30% annually, and practically all of it handled through the provisioning of new virtual servers on the existing mainframe footprint.

Another z cloud was built by the City and County of Honolulu. It needed to increase government transparency by providing useful, timely data to its citizens. The goal was to boost citizen involvement, improve delivery of services, and increase the efficiency of city operations.

Honolulu built its cloud using an IFL engine running Linux on the city’s z10 EC machine. Between Linux and IBM z/VM the city created a customized cloud environment. This provided a scalable self-service platform on which city employees could develop open source applications, and it empowered the general public to create and deploy citizen-centric applications. Other components included IBM XIV storage, IBM Maximo Asset Management, IBM Tivoli OMEGAMON, Tivoli Workload Scheduler, and Tivoli Storage Manager.

The results: reduction in application deployment time from one week to only hours, 68% lower licensing costs for one database, and a new property tax appraisal system that increased tax revenue by $1.4 million in just three months.

There are even more examples of z clouds. For z shops a private cloud should be pretty straightforward; you’re probably over half-way there already. All you need are a few more components and a well-defined business case.  Give me a call, and I’ll even help you pull the business case together.

20% Price/Performance Boost for IBM Hybrid Computing

September 20, 2012

Hybrid computing promises to boost IT flexibility and efficiency in a significant way. The zEnterprise EC12 (zEC12) continues IBM’s hybrid computing initiative by connecting to it through a new zBX, the model 003. The zBX, a robust blade cabinet, is where the multiplatform blades reside.

As with previous new machines, IBM gave the EC12 an approximately 20% MIPS price/performance kick. There also are savings on software and maintenance.

For hybrid computing, the zEC12/zBX combination support x86 blades, including Windows, and Power blades, which can run AIX or Linux. It also supports the DataPower blade. The Smart Analytics Optimizer blade has been discontinued in favor of the Netezza appliance that connects directly to the zEC12. Connecting the zEC12 and the zBX is a dedicated 10Gb link, far faster than the usual link. The Canadian Dept. of National Defense turned to the zEnterprise/zBX combination to execute its strategy of multi-platform enterprise hosting.

The z196 and z114, also hybrid systems, connect to the zBX model  002. Although the zBX model 003 connection is specific to the zEC12, everything else about the zBX is the same, the same total number of blades in the system (112), and the same option for single or doublewide blades as needed. Doublewide blades, of course, reduce the total number of blades.

This hybrid environment is managed as a virtual system through the zEC12 using the Unified Resource Manager. Additional management capabilities and higher level management automation is provided through Tivoli.

Hybrid computing actually isn’t new. Mainframe data centers typically support numerous platforms, including Windows, Linux, AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, and more. The problem is that these are deployed and operated as separate platforms, which substantially increases the management overhead. A few skilled IT data centers can cobble together the appearance of a unified hybrid environment through technologies like SOA. This requires considerable skill to set up and maintaining it as things inevitably change becomes a challenge. The zEnterprise/zBX hybrid environment streamlines all this through the Unified Resource Manager and Tivoli.

IBM offers a second hybrid platform call PureSystems. DancingDinosaur wrote about it here. The Flex System Manager provides similar unified hybrid management for PureSystems as the Unified Resource Manager does for the zEC12/zBX.

Watch for an upcoming white paper on zBX adoption trends from Independent Assessment, the publisher of DancingDinosaur and BottomlineIT.

The zEC12 alone is an impressive machine. A departure from the previous quad core chip architecture, the zEC12 uses a 5.5 GHz six (hexa) core, out-of-order CISC processor architecture, which enables IBM to pack significantly more power into what is essentially the same footprint.  The zEZ12 handles a maximum of 36 processors, for a total of 120 cores, 101 of which are directly available to run operating systems and applications. The rest are used by the system to manage its own operations.

The number of cores available in a particular model of the zEC12 is embedded in the model name. The H20 has 20 cores available for direct customer use, plus spare and service processor cores. The HA1 brings 101 cores. Any combination of configurable cores can be designated as an assist processor; either a zIIP, zAAP, IFL, Internal Coupling Facility (ICF), or a System Assist Processor.

Find all the pertinent specs directly from IBM here.

zEnterprise EC12: the Next Hybrid Mainframe

August 30, 2012

On Tuesday, IBM launched the zEnterprise EC12 (zEC12), a machine it had been hinting at for months as zNext, the next hybrid mainframe. As you would expect from the latest release of the top-of-the-line mainframe, the zEC12 delivers faster speed and better price/performance. With a 5.5 GHz core processor, up from 5.2 GHz in the z196, and an increase in the number of cores per chip (from 4 to 6) IBM calculates it delivers 50% more total capacity in the same footprint. The vEC12 won’t come cheap but on a cost per MIPS basis it’s probably the best value around.

More than just performance, it adds two major new capabilities, IBM zAware and Flash Express, and a slew of other hardware and software optimizations. The two new features, IBM zAware and Flash Express, both promise to be useful, but neither is a game changer. IBM zAware is an analytics capability embedded in firmware. It is intended to monitor the entire zEnterprise system for the purpose of identifying problems before they impact operations.

Flash Express consists of a pair of memory cards installed in the zEC12; what amounts to a new tier of memory. Flash Express is designed to streamline memory paging when transitioning between workloads. It will moderate workload spikes and eliminate the need to page to disk, which should boost performance.

Unless you are finding it difficult to keep your z machines running or are experiencing paging problems these capabilities won’t be immediately helpful.  They really are intended for shops with the most demanding workloads and no margin for error. The zEC12 also continues IBM’s hybrid computing thrust by including the zBX and new capabilities from System Director to be delivered through Unified Resource Manager APIs. You’ll need a zBX mod 3 to connect to the zEC12.

This is a stunningly powerful machine, especially coming just 25 months after the z196 introduction. The zEC12 is intended for optimized corporate data serving. Its 101 configurable cores deliver a performance boost for all workloads. The zEC12 also comes with the usual array of assist processors, which are just configurable cores with the assist personality loaded on. Since they are EC12 cores, they bring a 20% MIPS price/performance boost.

The processor has been optimized for better software performance, particularly for Java, PL/1, and DB2 workloads.  As with the z196, it handles out of order instruction processing and multi-level branch prediction for complex workloads. The new machine’s larger L2, L3, and L4 caches deliver almost 2x more on the chip to speed data to the processor. In addition, Flash Express provides 1.6 TB of usable capacity (packaged in pairs for redundancy, 3.2 TB total).

IBM estimates up to a 45% improvement in Java workloads, up to a 27% improvement in CPU-intensive integer and floating point C/C++ applications, up to 30% improvement in throughput for DB2 for z/OS operational analytics, and more than 30% improvement in throughput for SAP workloads. IBM has, in effect, optimized the zEC12 from top to bottom of the stack. DB2 applications are certain to benefit as will WebSphere and SAP.

IBM characterizes zEC12 pricing as follows:

  • Hardware—20% MIPS price/performance improvement for standard engines and specialty engines , Flash Express runs $125,000 per pair of cards (3.2 TB)
  • Software—update pricing will provide 2%-7% MLC price/performance for flat-capacity upgrades from z196, and IFLs will maintain PVU rating of 120 for software  yet deliver more 20% MIPS
  • Maintenance—no less than 2% price performance improvement for standard MIPS and 20% on IFL MIPS

IBM is signaling price aggressiveness and flexibility to attract new shops to the mainframe and stimulate new workloads. The deeply discounted Solution Edition program will include the new machine. IBM also is offering financing with deferred payments through the end of the year in a coordinated effort to move these machines now.

As impressive as the zEC12 specifications and price/performance is DancingDinosaur is most impressed by the speed at which IBM delivered the machine. It broke with its with its historic 3-year release cycle to deliver this potent hybrid machine just two years after the z196 first introduced hybrid computing.

PureSystems Gains Traction and Customers

August 12, 2012

After spending over a year as IBM’s hybrid computing poster child, the zEnterprise-zBX has a new hybrid computing sister, IBM PureSystems, which is beginning to gain traction. (DancingDinosaur most recently wrote about these hybrid siblings here.) IBM announced three PureSystems customers and reported over 160 new solutions and expert patterns.

A new financing promotion that allows customers to defer the first payment for 90 days and other goodies from IBM Global Financing will likely spur further adoption, especially as companies look to replace older technology. Deferred payment will help when budgets start running down toward year end.

In addition, IBM introduced new components to build out PureSystems. This includes two new Flex System offerings, the IBM Flex System x440 and Flex System x220 Compute Nodes. Flex System, notes IBM, is the company’s most advanced blade offering, and the blades are available either as Flex System or as part of a PureFlex configuration.

PureFlex, an IaaS product that is one of the two initial PureSystems offerings, provides a fully integrated system combining management of compute, storage, networking, and virtualization along with support for expert patterns to automate and optimize the computing infrastructure. The hybrid PureSystems are managed through the Flex System Manager.

The Flex System x440 is targeted to organizations seeking advanced virtualization and mainstream database deployments.  The Flex System x220 targets organizations with less demanding workloads and low-density virtualization. Both are designed with lower energy consumption for infrastructure workloads.

At the same time, IBM announced the FlexSystem PCI expansion node, which allows users to attach additional PCI express cards, fabric mezzanine cards, and next-generation graphics processing units (GPU) to an IBM Flex System compute node. The company also announced the FlexSystem FC5022 SAN Scalable Switch, a 24-port, 16GB integrated SAN switch without software that can save some money.

IBM also introduced three PureSystems early adopters: BPTP, PCCW, and ValeCard.

BPTP, an India-based real estate company, opted for IBM PureSystems to streamline its IT infrastructure with the goal of improving the overall home buying experience for its customers. To support its rapid growth since 2003, the company selected PureSystems, which will handle all the storage and processing for the company.

PCCW, a Hong Kong-based IT outsourcing firm, selected IBM PureSystems as the foundation for its new Enterprise Solutions Superstore, described as an online environment for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). The new Superstore enables PCCW to offer applications via the cloud through a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

ValeCard, a Brazilian company, experienced 40% annual growth over the past three years. Expecting the rapid growth to continue, ValeCard selected PureSystems to manage thousands of transaction records from contracts with large companies and government entities as well as meet an increasing set of new regulations and standards for data availability. The cloud capabilities of PureSystems also proved attractive to the company.

For financing, IBM Global Financing is making available a range of options that will help customers avoid paying cash up-front while lowering their TCO. For the first time customers can lease the entire value of the system, including hardware and software, and defer their first payment for 90 days. Additionally, IBM Global Asset Recovery Services can buy back servers, including those made by HP and Oracle, for clients migrating to IBM PureSystems.  One client taking advantage of IBM financing is BPTP.

All this is nice but it would be helpful to get some specifics of the configurations of these PureSystems and, once they are deployed, get some details on their use of expert patterns and whether less skilled workers are able to deploy and maintain them along with the usual specifics about the workload volumes, performance, and cost. Then IT managers can start to decide whether this is right for them too.

zBX and PureSystems Play Nice Together

July 19, 2012

At a recent analyst briefing an IBM manager implied that the Unified Resource Manager used by the hybrid zEnterprise to manage the zBX would converge with the Flex System Manager used to manage the new PureSystems. “We’re working on it,” he said earnestly. Someone at IBM might be working on it or at least thinking about it or arguing about it, but it is not going to happen in any foreseeable future.

That is the definitive word from Jeff Frey, IBM Fellow and CTO for System z: “Flex Manager and the Unified Resource Manager will not come together,” he told DancingDinosaur.  That does not mean the zEnterprise/zBX and PureSystems won’t play nicely together, but they will do so higher up in the IT stack. “We will federate the management at a higher level,” he said. Today, that pretty much means organizations using both platforms, zEnterprise and PureSystems, will have to rely on Tivoli to tie the pieces together and manage them.  At the lower levels in the stack where the hardware lives each platform will require its own management tooling.

This may be a disappointment to those who mistakenly thought IBM’s idealized vision of efficient hybrid computing meant one administrator working at a single console could manage everything happening across the various platforms, from a misbehaving partition to monitoring the resource consumption of a particular application.  This was never the intent, Frey noted. You still can do it to some extent, but it won’t be through the Unified Resource Manager.

Instead, Tivoli will provide a federation layer to enable higher level, logical management across both systems. When you need to manage some physical aspect of the underlying hardware you still will need platform-specific tools like Systems Director.

This shouldn’t be a surprise; the zEnterprise/zBX and PureSystems start from two different views of control.  The zEnterprise brings the mainframe tradition of disciplined centralized control, and that control point is the z. PureSystems views control from the distributed perspective.  These are not compatible views, which are why it makes sense to federate as much management as possible at the high end of the stack, far above the nitty-gritty of the underlying hardware.

As IBM moves forward with the next advances to the zEnterprise/zBX and to PureSystems the situation may seem even more confusing unless you stay focused on the point of control issues. For example, expect some IBM improvements incorporated into PureSystems hardware to make it into the zBX, but that does not mean the Flex System Manager will be able to manage the zBX.

Similarly, IBM is planning to push zBX scalability beyond the 112 blades the box supports today as well as adding clustering capabilities. The blade count expansion combined with the technology enhancements brought over from PureSystems, Frey hopes, should make clear IBM’s long term commitment to the zBX and zEnterprise hybrid computing.

At the same time, IBM is enhancing PureSystems for the purpose of scaling it beyond its current four units. This will give it something more like the Ensemble approach used with the System z. An ensemble is a collection of one or more zEnterprise system nodes where each node is comprised of a z and its optionally attached zBX. As such an ensemble can consist of a single z with no zBX attached, or two to eight CPCs where at least one has a zBX attached. The resources of a zEnterprise ensemble are managed and virtualized as a single pool of resources integrating system and workload management across the resulting multi-system, multi-tier, multi-architecture environment.

In the end, both the zEnterprise/zBX and PureSystems are poised for scaling. That should become obvious with the next rev of the zEnterprise, which should happen in 2013 if IBM sticks to its historic 3-year mainframe rev cycle. The new rev will address some of the current gaps, like partition mobility and live image mobility as well as the usual bigger and faster story.

With two hybrid computing platforms the hybrid approach is here for real at IBM. Now the question is which workloads can most benefit and on which platform. Expect DancingDinosaur to explore this question in the coming months.

IBM Hybrid Computing Choices

June 18, 2012

Enterprises now have a choice of IBM hybrid computing options, the zEnterprise/zBX and IBM PureSystems. Since the introduction of the zEnterprise in 2010 along with the zBX there is a zEnterprise option that now encompasses z/OS, Linux on z, z/VM, Power blades, AIX, Linux, System x blades, Windows, and specialty blades.  You can manage the resulting hybrid platform as one hybrid virtualized system through the Unified Resource Manager. About the only thing missing is i.

Today there are two PureSystems options: PureFlex, an IaaS offering, and PureApplication, a PaaS offering. IBM implies that more PureSystems will be coming. PureSystems brings System i to the hybrid party along with Power and System x but skips z/OS and z/VM. You manage this hybrid environment with the Flex System Manager (FSM), which looks very similar to the zEnterprise’s Unified Resource Manager. DancingDinosaur previously covered the PureSystems introduction here.

The challenge becomes choosing between two IBM hybrid computing environments that look very similar but aren’t quite the same.  So, which do you use?

Obviously, if you need z/OS, you go with the zEnterprise. It provides the optimum platform for enterprise computing with its extreme scalability and leading security and resiliency. It supports tens of thousands of users while new offerings expand the z role in BI and real time analytics, especially if much of the data reside on the z.

If you must include i you go with the PureFlex. Or, if you find you have a hybrid workload but don’t require the governance and tight integration with the z, you can choose IBM PureFlex and connect it to the zEnterprise via your existing network. Tivoli products can provide the integration of business processes.

If you look at your choice of hybrid computing environments in terms of cost, PureSystems probably will cost less, how much less depends on how it is configured. The entry PureFlex starts at $156k; the standard version, which includes storage and networking, starts at $217k; and the Enterprise version, intended for scalable cloud deployment and included redundancy for resilient operation, starts at $312k. Plus there is the cost of the O/S and hypervisor (open source KVM is free).

The zEnterprise option will cost more but maybe not all that much more depending on how you configure it, whether you can take advantage of the System z Solution Edition packages, and how well you negotiate. The lowest cost zEnterprise-zBX hybrid environment includes the z114 ($75k base price but expect to pay more once it is configured), about $200k or more for a zBX, depending on the type and number of blades, plus whatever you need for storage.

The payback from hybrid computing comes mainly from the operational efficiency and labor savings it allows. PureSystems especially come pre-integrated and optimized for the workload and is packed with built-in management expertise and automation that allow fewer, less skilled people to handle the hybrid computing environment. (Watch for an upcoming white paper on hybrid computing from Independent Assessment, the developer and publisher of DancingDinosaur.)

Right now the wrinkle in the hybrid computing management efficiency story comes from organizations that want both the zEnterprise and PureSystems. This would not be an odd pairing at all, but it will require two different management tools, Flex System Manager for the PureSystems environment and the Unified Resource Manager for the zEnterprise-zBX. At a recent briefing an IBM manager noted that discussions already were underway to bring the two management schemes together although when and how that actually might happen he couldn’t say. Let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.

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