The IBM zEnterprise EC12 and the next generation data center

In 2007, I published a number of articles exploring what the next generation datacenter (NGDC) should include.  Techology from IBM, HP and a few others were held up to this vision. While technology, when the proper products and implementation strategies were deployed, was quite close to the grand vision, there was a way to go. When IBM launched the zEnterprise EC12 and its related software, the industry took quite a large step towards that vision.

Let's look at the orginal vision and then what IBM announced.

Requirements for the next generation datacenter (as published in 2007)

  • Today's datacenter is a layer cake of technology. It would be nice if the next generation datacenter would be constructed using systems based upon a standard architecture that could support encapsulated virtual systems that could support all of the important operating systems and their supported workloads.
  • Orchestration software, sometimes thought of as "the operating system for the datacenter", that makes it it possible for the organization to set policies and know that the datacenter would configure and reconfigure itself as necessary to meet those objectives.
  • The datacenter would automatically power down unneeded resources and wake them back up again as needed.
  • The datacenter would automatically project capacity requirements based upon historical usage patterns and inform administrators that new blades, nodes or whatever must be acquired and installed well in advance of actual need.
  • The datacenter must be smart enough to support pre-production development and testing as well as production work.
  • Users should be able to access applications and data from wherever they are using whatever networked, intelligent device they choose.

zEnterprise EC12

Here's a quick summary of what IBM had to say about its zEnterprise EC12.

  • New System z offering 25% more performance per core and 50% more total capacity than its predecessor. This includes the capability to support over 100 configurable cores.
  • Increased capacity for security, analytics and cloud computing support.
  • Only commercial server to achieve Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 5+ security classification
  • Complex business and operational analytics are supported by the availabile IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator that incorporates the Netezza data warehouse applications
  • zEnterprise EC12 can consolidate thousands of  Linux workloads on a single configuration
  • Hybrid computing support: IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) allows organizations to integrate workloads designed for mainframes, POWER7 and System x (x86) systems and manage them as a single, virtualized system  zEnterprise Unified Resource Management
  • The EC12 can consolidate and support the following operating systems
    • On the EC12 itself:
      • z/OS
      • Linux on System z (SUSE Enterprise Server, Red Hat Enteprise Linux)
      • z/VM
      • z/VSE
      • z/TPF
    • Using the general purpose application server blades
      • Linux (Red Hat Enterprise Lnux, SUSE Linux Enteprise Server)
      • Microsoft Windows SErver 2008
      • UNIX (AIX)

Snapshot Analysis

Large and medium sized organizations have long struggled with the challenges of maintaining the datacenter. Adding to this challenge is the fact that a typical datacenter typically looks like a museum of computer technology. Applications developed 30 years ago are still in use on current systems. These established applications provide input and support to newer applications developed 20 years ago. These 20 year old applications in turn, provide input and support to applications developed 10 years ago and so on.

So, new technology is typically installed along side of older technology rather than totally supplanting it. Functions may be moved to newer equipment as it becomes available but, it is unlikely that 30 year old functions will be rewritten.

So, what does the CIO do to reduce the cost and complexity of maintaining all of those diverse types of hardware? One approach has been to seek out new applications and then incur the expenses of the hardware/software conversion and retraining staff to use the new applicatons. Many CIOs would love to be able to select a single hardware platform and run all of the old applications in virtualized form rather than dealing with the chaos an application replacement can produce.

The CIO would love to be able to treat processing, storage and the network  as if it were a pool of dynamically asignable  resources so that applications could have access to what they need and the organization could be sure that service levels and policies could be reliably met at a minimal cost.

Does IBM's zEnterprise EC12 and its related software fulfill this vision? It comes closer than what has come before.   

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