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IBM Launches Products, Program Around Linux Clusters

Cluster Centric

  • July 28, 2005
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

At a big press conference in Manhattan on Tuesday, IBM made a set of announcements--a new mainframe system, a development "community" for blades, and a new virtualization software platform--that looks likely to carry a range of future ramifications for Linux developers and administrators.

During a three-hour presentation, IBM executives told dozens of assembled editors and reporters that the new IBM System z9, Virtualization Engine (VE) 2.0, and Blade.org development program also represent a new IBM strategy.

Under the revamped strategy, IBM will focus on meeting users' needs for better security, easier administration, and more chances to save time through collaborative development, said Bill Zeitler, senior VP and group executive, IBM Systems and Technology Group.

Zeitler juxtaposed this approach against an earlier strategy, first articulated by IBM at the launch of the System z9's predecessor, T-Rex. Zeitler said that beginning a greater push toward Linux was a key pillar in the earlier strategy.

Reciting statistics about IBM's recent mainframe sales, IBM officials at the event on Tuesday credited the rise of Linux clusters on the ZoS operating system with breathing new life into the mainframe platform.

Erich Clementi, general manager for IBM Systems, said that IBM has sold more mainframe capacity over the past four years than over the previous forty.

For his part, Zeitler attributed 25 percent of recent sales in mainframe capacity to Linux clusters.

IBM's overall revenues, though, have slumped lately, pointed out Bob Djiurdjevic, an analyst at Annex Research, in an interview with LinuxPlanet later that day.

But, he predicted, this week's announcements will give mainframes another shot in the arm. "What's good for Linux is good for mainframes, because Linux generates demand for mainframes," according to the analyst.

The new VE unveiled on Tuesday will work across both ZoS and Linux clusters running on mainframes, noted Juhi Jotwani, IBM's director of BladeCenter Alliances, in a meeting with LinuxPlanet at the event.

Down the road, blade management software created by Blade.org will run as part of the VE environment, said Rob Redford, VP of products and technology at Cisco, one of several partners that's joining IBM as founding members of the development group.

During the main presentation at the press conference, Rod Adkins, IBM's VP for development, emphasized two new security features in the System z9: software-based encryption lf tapes and a facility for central management of encryption keys.

The enhancements will impact ZoS, but they won't deal directly with security issues around Linux clusters running on mainframes, Adkins added, in another meeting with LinuxPlanet at the event.

"We are looking at security improvements to Linux, but they won't be exactly the same kinds of improvements," he said.

IBM is also pondering the prospect of adding a hardware-based encryption accelerator to the ZoS platform in the future, according to Adkins.

The System z9 mainframe is being touted by IRM as capable of processing one billion transactions per day, for more than double the performance of the T-Rex, and up to 6,000 secure online handshakes per second, about three times as many as before.

The system will also let users create thousands of virtual servers on a single system with up to 60 logical hardware partitions, twice as many as the z990, officials said.

Users can run either Java or Linux-based apps on the same platform as legacy software through the use of two specialty engines: the System z9 Application Assist Processor and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL).

Customers at the launch voiced mixed reactions over whether IBM's announcements will impact their Linux expansion plans.

"This is a day of celebration!" said Nigel Fortlage, VP of Information Technology at GHY International, buttonholed by LinuxPlanet at the luncheon buffet table.

Fortlage has already installed 17 Linux applications on an IBM iServer. "The server practically manages itself, so I don't have to do much administration on it," according to Fortlage.

Anticipating that VE 2.0 will allow for similar self-management on zSeries, Fortlage is now eyeing the prospect of running Linux clusters on a ZoS machine. He also plans to add AIX apps to iSeries servers.

In another meeting, Mark L. Shearer, IBM's general manager for eSeries and iSeries, said that Fortlage and many SMBs like to run Linux apps on iSeries so they can get rapid access to data stored in IBM's DB2.

Jim Dillon, CIO of New York State, was also quite enthusiastic over this week's news. New York State already intended to do gradual trade-ups from its legacy mainframes to ZoS, anyway.

But IBM's rollouts have further whetted Dillon's appetite. The CIO told LinuxPlanet that he's particularly interested in the new encryption features, because of the emerging regulatory climate around information privacy, for instance.

On the other hand, Dr. Nina Schwenk, Mayo Foundation IT Committee Chair, Mayo Clinic, said the rollouts will have no effect on the Mayo Clinic one way or another.

The clinic's large heterogeneous network already has some Linux installations, according to Schwenk. "And there will be more," she told LinuxPlanet. But the clinic's roadmap for Linux was already set well before this week's announcements, she said.

The cornerstone of IBM's VE 2.0, IBM Director 5.1, is an integrated suite of software tools designed to provide a consistent, easy-to-use management point for all applications running on zSeries and pSeries, according to Cisco's Redford.

IBM Director includes an extension called Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) for monitoring and policy-based configuration management and provisioning of virtual/physical machines.

Redford told LinuxPlanet that--instead of playing sneakernet between various machines--administrators will now be able to monitor CPU utilization and to roll out failover policies, for instance, across environments and all from a central place.

VE 2.0 will also support IBM's recently unveiled Tivoli Change and Configuration Management databases, said IBM's Jotwani.

But the virtualization engine also includes APIs for integration with third-party management systems, according to Redford.

Other capabilities of VE 2.0 include automatic discovery of IP (Internet protocol) network resources, streamlined workload management, integrated storage administration, and the ability to map business processes to IT resources, for example.

The new Blade.org community will work collaboratively to produce tools and applications for blades, while also letting partners in BladeCenter--a platform co-designed by IBM and Intel--test and interoperate their products, Jotwani said.

Aside from IBM and Cisco, other vendors that have expressed interest in being founding members of Blade.org include Intel, Citrix Systems, VMware, Novell, Nortel, and Network Appliance.

Meanwhile, in an expo component of the launch, several third-party ISVs showed Linux implementations running on either ZoS or Intel platforms.

Computer Systems, Inc., for example, displayed Mercury, an Intel cluster-based medical imaging system that lets doctors perform the equivalents of virtual walk-throughs and fly-bys on CRT scans.

In the demo, Computer Systems used Microsoft Windows as the operating environment for the PC servers. But Joel Radford, VP of strategic marketing and alliances, attributed the application's fast rendering speeds to an underlying IBM Cell processor that works on Linux.

Elsewhere on the floor, Information Builders, an IBM partner for decades, showed its WebFocus business intelligence software running on mainframe-based Linux clusters.

WebFocus also supports all other IBM hardware platforms, including iSeries, xSeries, and pSeries, according to Adam E. Cohen, Information Builders' partner marketing manager.

Radford and Cohen both said they're happy about the emergence of Blade.org. "I think we'll be able to benefit from some of the software that's produced," Cohen maintained.

But Clay Ryder, an analyst at Sageza Group, suggested that developers shouldn't expect the Blades.org "community" to be exactly like the open source community.

"There are certain parallels between these two communities, because both are doing collaborative code development. But this doesn't mean that Blade.org will be producing open source software. Also, Blade.org centers around a specific vendor," Ryder told LinuxPlanet.

"Still, I see plenty of possibilities for Blade.org to create specialized blade (solutions): network blades, for instance, or blades for particular vertical markets."

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