IBM zEnterprise Has Benefits on Many Levels

Posted by Frank Fillmore on July 23, 2010 under DB2 for z/OS, InfoSphere, Optim, Q-Replication. Tags: , , , , , .

I attended IBM’s zEnterprise announcement in New York yesterday.  IBM Senior VP Steve Mills said it was the most important announcement IBM had ever made in its impact on saving customers money.  He also said IBM spent US$1.5 billion dollars on the zEnterprise research and development effort over the past several years.  So, as movie reviewers ask about the latest blockbuster: “Can you see the money up on the screen?”.  The answer comes in a few loosely coupled parts.

  1. Oskar Schindler said you must have a “clever accountant”.  Mills made it clear that organizations that can accurately allocate their IT expenses will see the most benefit from zEnterprise.  zEnterprise delivers System z quality of services (QOS) across heterogeneous architectures: the aforementioned System z as well as Power 7 blade servers and (eventually) System x blades.  The problem for most organizations is that System z “mainframe” costs have been capitalized from central IT budgets for over four decades.  As the PC revolution unfolded since the early 1980’s, most of the costs for networking, systems administrator salaries, PCs themselves and the software they run have been expensed out of departmental budgets.  Organizations with the discipline to accurately accumulate these costs certainly will be able to see the benefit of deploying the zEnterprise platform.  Interestingly, the table talk at lunch indicated that some IBMers see the sweet-spot for zEnterprise in the rapidly growing economies of China and Russia.  The reason?  Tight budgetary control and hierarchical, centralized decision-making in state and quasi-state enterprises (think Gazprom) will help them “get it” immediately.  I would not be surprised to see zEnterprise adoption in emerging and growing economies exceed that of North America in the next two years.
  2. IBM has been able to run Linux on System z hardware using Virtual Servers and z/VM for a decade.  And the System z has been able to dispatch workloads to specialty engines within System z such as the Integrated Facility for Linux, zIIP, and zAAP for years.  Think of zEnterprise as extending that dispatching capability out of the physical System z box to discrete blade servers.  IBM’s goal is to move away from the “you can do everything on System z” posture – which in reality was a losing, rear-guard action – to embracing disparate architectures and acknowledging that maybe a print server really should run under Linux on an x86 platform.  Yet you can benefit from the centralized management and security of the System z.  This is workload integration at the chip, firmware, hypervisor, and middleware levels.  A pretty neat trick.
  3. So what can I do with the zEnterprise?  Here are two relatively simple scenarios.

The Online Travel Portal  One well-known travel reservation site front-ends their expensive Oracle transaction servers with MySQL running on cheap x86 hardware.  While you’re noodling around trying to figure out the best intinerary, all you’re seeing is data replicated from Oracle to MySQL on a near-real-time basis.  When you enter your credit card number and hit “Purchase”, you’re routed to the Oracle OLTP server.  This is called “database tiering”.  I can now architect the same topology on System z with DB2 for z/OS on the back-end and x86 blades running the DB2 Express-C freeware database.  On the zEnterprise platform, these databases will communicate over a 10Gb private, secure network with extraordinarily low latency.  Ever get the “That seat is no longer available” message?  It might be a thing of the past with zEnterprise.

The Hospitality Company  This organization runs their centralized reservation systems on DB2 for z/OS already.  In order to support their frequent-guest affinity program portal, they have WebSphere Application Server running on a separate System p AIX server.  The only problem is that sometimes transactions hang to the point that the JVMs have to be recycled.  The Java programmers say their code is tightly written and the DB2 for z/OS database administrations say that the incoming SQL requests are satisfied sub-second.  While zEnterprise alone would not resolve this problem – see pureQuery and the lyrically named Optim Performance Manager Extended Edition – the application and the database servers will be as tightly coupled as possible while each runs on the optimal platform.  Since the transfer points and the servers themselves are under unified management, an entire layer of complexity (and potential breakage) will be eliminated.

The real buzz in the announcement for me is the IBM Smart Analytics Optimizer (ISAO).  For a generation as a DB2 database administrator, I’ve told my clients that OLTP and ad hoc query workloads should not be intermingled.  The solution has been to make copies of the data using replication technologies – InfoSphere Change Data Capture and Q Replication among them.  This approach has been a boon to DBAs, and software, storage, and server salesmen everywhere.  When it achieves its full promise, ISAO will evaluate incoming database requests and dispatch them along with the data needed to satisfy the request to the appropriate platform server.  DB2 for z/OS will serve as a centralized front-end for all workloads: OLTP, OLAP, ad hoc query, etc.  ISAO will transparently run the workload on the optimal platform and return the result set to the requesting application.  Organizations will be able to dismantle the miasma of extracts, FTPs, and other artifices now necessary to keep analytic workloads from bogging down OLTP.  And they’ll reduce complexity.  And save a ton of cash.

So on whose door will IBM knock first?  Clearly the System z installed base will be getting lots of attention.  But could Facebook or some other enterprise with orders-of-magnitude scaling issues (500 million Facebook users and counting) benefit from zEnterprise?  Surprisingly, the answer is Yes!  Facebook needs to manage lots of unstructured data (pictures, videos, et al) , but they also have the need for complex analytics.  First, to target online advertising ever more precisely, but also to serve larger societal needs.  Let’s say a man declares he needs a reduction in child support because he’s nearly broke.  The local social services agency unleases a smart agent to run against social networking sites and comes up with pictures on Facebook from the man’s recent two-week vacation in Hawaii.  Too big brother-ish?  A topic for another day.