Sunday, 17 July 2011

Command economies, decentralization, and the z114

It comes and goes. It’s like a pendulum swinging in one direction,  running out of steam, and then swinging in the completely opposite direction. And it applies to countries, economies, and the way people view computing. Let me explain...

During the 1970s, computing, where it existed, was very much a centralized affair. The gods of the mainframe pretty much controlled what anyone was able to do. It was like Stalinist Russia. Everything came out of the centre. You didn’t get it, unless someone at the hub of things deemed it necessary for you to have it.

Currently in the UK, we have the opposite approach in terms of our model of how things should work. Quite logically, you might think, if you live in a rural area with rolling fields full of wheat or livestock, your concerns are completely different from those of someone living in a post-industrial run-down urban area. Of course, this localism easily lends itself to the criticism of postcode lottery. Anyway, we have little islands of individuality separate from each other. Unfortunately, the reality is that political areas tend to include more than a monoculture of just rural or just urban populations. Plus you have different needs for different age groups – you can see where this idea falls down when applied to the real world, but hang on to the little islands metaphor.

Now let’s turn time back to 1989. We find the Berlin wall coming down and the whole centralized power base of the USSR and it’s Warsaw Pack allies crumbling. In the world of computing, we find the balance of opinion has moved right away from mainframes. In the early 90s, their death was confidently predicted. In its place we had millions of underpowered PCs running DOS-based operating systems. And as the 90s progressed we saw the triumph of Windows and Microsoft. We also saw that antithesis of centralization, Open Source software. Unix started life in 1969, and Linus Torvalds’ Linux arrived in 1991. Even IBM, which had developed and standardized the PC in the early 1980s, was working on the development of other platforms. 1988 gave us the AS/400 – now the IBM System i and which now runs on the POWER platform. The RS/6000, running a Unix variant called AIX, arrived in the 1990s and also now run on POWER hardware.

So, having been empowered to make their own decisions and choices of hardware and software, what have users done since then? Well, in the PC world, they go for big servers that are virtualized in order to benefit from the control that gives them. It makes back-ups and business continuity easier.

And now, here we are in 2011 and IBM announces a Business Class (basically not a top-end machine, more one for the everyman mainframe user) zEnterprise – the z114. It’s gone back to being a centralized piece of hardware because not only is it a mainframe, it’s a POWER7 box, and it has x86 blades. So that gives users a smaller footprint, less power consumption, and control of everything using the IBM zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager and the IBM zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX). The POWER7 blades mean that AS/400 and RS/6000-heritage users have a home. And the x86 blades not only run Linux x86 applications unchanged, but, by the end of the year, are expected to run Windows applications too.

The culture shock at many sites will come when the distributed applications teams (and they may have many different names) discover that all the things they’ve been planning to achieve (virtualized desktops, virtualized servers, etc) are just part of the techniques that the mainframe people take for granted. And the mainframers are going to have to understand that for many of the people in the other teams, it’s in many ways still about 1992 in terms of business recovery times etc. But when the teams do come together, the synergy is going to be very beneficial for the organization that allow it to happen.

This new mainframe, unusually, comes with a published price tag – $75,000. As part of the package you get the IBM Smart Analytics Optimizer to analyse data faster at a lower cost per transaction, and the IBM WebSphere DataPower XI50 for integrating Web-based workloads. The new hardware runs the latest version of z/OS – 1.13. You get 3.8GHz processors (the zEnterprise 196 uses  5.3GHz processors), and you can configure up to 14 of them with 10 specialty processors – zIIP, zAAP, and IFL.

The pendulum has now swung completely back. We have a single box capable of providing all the different computing needs of an organization.

1 comment:

Roger Bowler said...

Your article suggests that the price of a z114 is $75,000 and "as part of the package you get the IBM Smart Analytics Optimizer ... and the IBM WebSphere DataPower XI50". Don't you need a Blade Center Extension to run those? The zBX surely isn't included in the entry price?