Choices Abound with Hybrid Model

IT optimization and cloud-computing expert Bill Reeder explains why IBM's hybrid computing model is relevant for every business, even for organizations not using a cloud model

Bill Reeder

With July’s zEnterprise System announcements, many customers are looking to leverage the added capabilities of the newest System z server to host their own cloud. IBM Systems Magazine went to IT optimization and cloud-computing expert Bill Reeder, who explains why IBM’s hybrid computing model is relevant for every business—even for organizations not using a cloud model. He argues, no one drives the same car or uses the same airline, why should servers be any different? With the zEnterprise, customers have a choice, and gain the benefit of unified management.

Q: A big component of the zEnterprise System, from day one, is the capability for multiplatform management. How is this similar to a cloud-computing model?

BR: Cloud, to many customers, is often an extension of existing single-architecture virtualization technology. Imagine taking a pile of laptop computers and then virtualizing four servers on each one. I know my own laptop is often in contention for resources, running just one operating system. Extending that concept to important functions that are the core of IT (core banking, manufacturing, HR, stock trading), the wall-of-laptops virtualized model would be a tough road to ride on. Customers don’t run just one architecture for a simple reason: different servers’ economic and operational characteristics have businesses architecting to optimize solutions to fit their business needs.

zEnterprise is the first server designed to optimize end-to-end workloads that include those very systems—x86, Power and System z—upon which businesses rely. Using tooling such as Unified Resource Manager, we can manage resources across all of those architectures from a single point. Looking at zEnterprise and the BladeCenter Extension (zBX) combined, the entire portfolio of applications can be optimized into highly tuned resources across what were architectural boundaries.

Additionally, leveraging System z as a management platform has other advantages. Over the past few years, many businesses have experienced server sprawl, which has rapidly increased IT spend. In order to get control, companies started on the journey to virtualization server sprawl, which is to say many virtualized servers and a variety of virtualization technologies and management stacks. In many cases, this means almost 30 percent of the servers in the data center are a variety of management servers, which exacerbates the problem. Using zEnterprise as a base with the management capabilities of Tivoli products, we can manage the virtualization sprawl and get tight management control from the Tivoli stack of other virtualization technologies such as VMware and PowerVM.

Putting this all together, zEnterprise can manage complex solutions within the System z server and zBX stack of resources as well as serve as the hub for consolidating the resources to manage the rest of our increasingly virtualized IT landscape.

Q: What is different or unique about the cloud capabilities of the zEnterprise versus other cloud solutions? What does it mean to have cloud without System z servers at its core?

BR: Expanding on the cross-architectural capabilities above, we need to look further into one of the crown jewels of most applications: the data. All of the customers I know run multiple database types, and many of each, in supporting their enterprise. System z servers can support more than 11 database types at the same time. If you consider how much information needs to flow between the different applications in our business, the capability to have them communicate with each other is key. Leveraging the higher internal bandwidth of the machine, we can bring communications closer together with those applications. Increasingly, we’re trying to mine that data to increase our efficiency in the market. Having these business intelligence (BI) applications close to the data is the next rung on the ladder from the database.

Knowing applications accessing those database assets can be on System z as well as other architectures in zBX or beyond, the capability to provision the cloud within the zEnterprise complex helps build end-to-end managed solutions leveraging a cloud-deployment model. When I compare that to other solutions, I realize customers are still relegated to single-architecture cloud solutions. I don’t see a single-architecture approach as practical nor efficient in any way; there isn’t really any effective one-size-fits-all approach.

Let me turn that around to make my point. I’m writing a note on a laptop; I could choose to use a tablet, or a smart phone to write it, as I have all three technologies at my disposal. Why don't I just standardize and pick one? It is, after all, technically possible to perform most of my daily functions on one of these three technologies. However, I’m grateful I didn’t have to write a lengthy email on either a tablet or smartphone. The same concept works on servers. Would I want to use a mainframe as the server for a farm of animation rendering, or would I want a rack of x86 servers to be used for flight reservations for the millions of customers checking on and booking flights daily?

At its core, cloud is really reflecting the System z architecture. For the entire history of the mainframe, customers have required the ability to share what was a very expensive resource. As a result, they also demanded the design be such that they could use all of the resource they bought. Over the years, those basic design elements have remained: use all that you buy and share it across the business. When you reflect over the past 14 years when server utilization on distributed servers averaged about 3 percent on x86 machines and about 12 percent on UNIX servers, the mainframe was already virtualized—using LPAR and virtualization technology to allow customers to run between 90 percent and 100 percent CPU utilization. Due to the unique design of the System z platform, we don’t run into the same bottleneck of network contention and disk I/O contention that other technologies generally experience when they attempt to run virtualized at CPU utilization above 55 percent. I’ve had many customers claim to run 70 to 80 percent CPU utilization in highly virtualized distributed technologies, but none of them are able to maintain service levels their business requires. On System z servers, maintaining high service levels and high CPU utilization is the design point, and has been from the beginning.

Q: Why is an enterprise cloud significant to today’s business? What are the benefits?

BR: Enterprise cloud is really an enabler for business. It allows companies to manage services or servers consistently, efficiently and in concert with business requirements. Let’s go back to the server sprawl we talked about. When customers embark on server consolidation, they rapidly discover they don’t have a clear picture of what servers they have, what their capabilities are, or what applications are on those servers. Most data centers have servers on, consuming energy, and software-license expenses. Even with a small number of servers, it illustrates the point: How can you manage what you don’t even know you have? In an enterprise cloud model, centrally controlled as we discussed, I know what is deployed, where it’s deployed and what it’s doing—for all of those resources. I also have a unique opportunity to solve some of the other issues that plague most IT shops. With enterprise cloud deployment, servers can be all at the same patch level, the software licenses are managed, unused services are removed and energy is monitored. At the same time IT can respond to business requests in a more timely and efficient manner.

One final comment: If one size fits all, we would all drive the same car, ride the same bicycle and use only one type of airplane for all airlines. None of these three statements is true and the reasons are fairly obvious. Why should it be different for servers? IBM encourages a diverse set of technology to run IT; that’s the design point behind the zEnterprise Systems and the integration of hybrid architectures: the capability to manage your diverse portfolio of servers.

Natalie Boike is a former IBM Systems Magazine managing editor.

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