Archive for August, 2012

EMC Introduces New Mainframe VTL

Competition suddenly is heating up at the top of the mainframe storage world. EMC introduced the high end DLm8000, the latest in its family of VTL products. This one is aimed for large enterprise mainframe environments and promises to ensure consistency of data at both production and recovery sites and provide the shortest possible RPO and RTO for critical recovery operations.

It is built around EMC VMAX enterprise storage and its SRDF replication and relies on synchronous replication to ensure immediate data consistency between the primary and target storage by writing the data simultaneously at each. Synchronous replication addresses the potential problem latency mismatch that occurs with the usual asynchronous replication, where a lag between writes to the primary and to the backup target storage can result in inconsistent data.

Usually this mismatch exists for a brief period. EMC suggests the issue, especially for large banks and financial firms—its key set of mainframe target customers—is much more serious. Large financial organizations with high transaction volume, EMC notes, have historically faced recovery challenges because their mainframe tape and DASD data at production and secondary sites were never fully in synch.  As such, recovery procedures often slowed until the differences between the two data sets were resolved, which slowed the resulting failover.  This indeed may be a real issue but for only a small number of companies, specifically those that need an RTO and RPO of just about zero.

EMC used the introduction of the DLm8000 to beat up tape backup in general. Physical tape transportation by third party records management companies, EMC notes, hinders recovery efforts by reducing what it refers to as the granularity of RPOs while dramatically increasing the RTO.  In addition, periodic lack of tape drive availability for batch processing and for archive and backup applications can impair SLAs, further increasing the risks and business impact associated with unplanned service interruptions. That has been long recognized, but remember EMC is a company that sells disk, not tape storage, and ran a Tape Sucks campaign after its purchase of Data Domain. What would you expect them to say?

The DLm8000 delivers throughput of up to 2.7 GB/s, which it claims is 2.5x the performance of its nearest competitor. BottomlineIT can’t validate that claim, but EMC does have a novel approach to generating the throughput. The DLm8000 is packed with eight Bus-Tech engines (acquired in its acquisition of Bus-Tech in Nov. 2010) and it assigns two FICON connections to each engine for a total of 16 FICON ports cranking up the throughput. No surprise it can aggregate that level of throughput.

EMC has not announced pricing for the DLm8000. The device, however, is the top of its VTL lineup and VMAX enterprise storage tops its storage line. With high throughput and synchronous replication, this product isn’t going to be cheap. However, if you need near zero RPO and RTO then you have only a few choices.

Foremost among those choices should be the IBM TS7700 family, particularly the 7740 and the 7720. Both of these systems provide VTL connectivity. The TS7700 avoids the latency mismatch issue by using a buffer to get the most optimal write performance and then periodically synch primary and target data. “Synchronous as EMC does it for VTL is overkill,” says an IBM tape manager. The EMC approach essentially ignores the way mainframe tape has been optimized.

Among the other choices are the Oracle Virtual Storage Manager and Virtual Library Extension. Oracle uses StorageTek tape systems. The Oracle approach promises to improve tape drive operating efficiencies and lower TCO by optimizing tape drive and library resources through a disk-based virtual tape architecture. HDS also has a mainframe tape backup and VTL product that uses Luminex technology.

EMC is a disk storage company and its DLm8000 demonstrates that. When it comes to backup, however, mainframe shops are not completely averse to tape. Disk-oriented VTL has some advantages but don’t expect mainframe shops to completely abandon tape.

In other storage news, IBM recently announced acquiring Texas Memory Systems (TMS), a long established (1978) Texas company that provides solid state memory to deliver significantly faster storage throughput and data access while consuming less power. TMS offers its memory as solid state disk (SSD) through its RamSan family of shared rackmount systems and Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) cards. SSD may be expensive on a cost per gigabyte basis but it blows away spinning hard disk on a cost per IOPS.

Expect to see IBM to use TMS’s SSD across its storage products as one of its key future storage initiatives. Almost every other storage vendor is incorporating some form of SSD or Flash into its storage architecture.

Finally, IBM today introduced the latest rev of its top end mainframe. The new machine, the zEnterprise EC12 (zEC12) delivers more performance and capacity that its predecessor, the z196. Both machines support multi-platform hybrid computing.

With a 5.5 Ghz core processor, up from 5.2 Ghz in the z196, and an increase in the number of cores per chip (from 4 to 6) the zEC12 indeed is faster. Supporting 101 configurable engines compared to 80 on the z196, IBM calculates the zEC12 delivers 50% more total capacity in the same footprint.

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Avoid the Pitfalls of Social Networking

In an economy where innovation has become the currency for sustained competitive advantage, it also has become a truism that when companies collaborate they will innovate more often and more effectively.  Although large enterprises have long deployed complex and sophisticated collaboration tools, popular social networking tools can do as good a job.

That’s why you hear a lot about the successes big consumer product and entertainment companies are having with social networking.  P&G, for example, discovered that Facebook could pump new life into a stable but decidedly staid product, Pepto-Bismol.  Business Week wrote about it here in March.

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and those not so explicitly consumer oriented have found social networking success a bit more elusive.   Among midsize businesses, for instance, 38% have a company Facebook page, but less than a quarter uses it to generate new leads and sales and less than one-fifth use it for internal collaboration or customer retention, according to a recent study by the SMB Group.

The SMB 2012 study shows overall use of social media is up from 44% to 53% among small businesses (1-99 employees) and up from 52% to 63% among medium businesses (100-999 employees) year-over-year, but it also reveals a widening gap between SMBs that are using social networking in an informal, ad hoc manner and those taking a more planned, strategic approach. Here is how can you make social strategic in your organization and avoid common pitfalls.

Start by making a commitment to use social networking strategically and link it to goals for revenue growth. Strategic users, the study found, also were more likely to have already integrated social media with existing business applications and processes. CRM, customer support, and product development are the three that most immediately come to mind.

After that, you want to avoid five social networking pitfalls SMBs trip on. Kevin Casey, writing for Information Week, elaborated on them, which Bottomline IT summarizes below:

  1. Not enough time. A lack of time was the clear number-one issue for small businesses, with 62% citing it as a roadblock to effective social engagement. Midsize businesses are similarly pressed.
  2. Too many social networks. The time issue compounds as the number of social platforms grows. Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others bring social networks that together complicate strategy development and execution.
  3. Hard to measure. Nearly half of midsize firms report being unable to accurately measure the value of their social networking. Why define and execute a strategy if there is no effective way to evaluate progress?
  4. Inappropriate tools and services. Yes, social monitoring and management tools are emerging but many are not designed for SMBs. They don’t want a comprehensive command center but something easily deployed that covers their key social activities in one simple toolset, including metrics.
  5. Confusing customer sentiment. SMBs experience a deluge of social information emanating from these networks, some of it contradictory, which makes it hard to figure out what it all means. Social analysis tools are just emerging for this.

Data published in Forrester’s Global Enterprise Web 2.0 Market Forecast: 2007 to 2013, projects that enterprise spending on Web 2.0 technologies will reach $4.6 billion by 2013 and climb to $6.4 billion by 2016.  Gartner predicts that social technology will be integrated with most business applications by 2016. But, deriving value from social networking is not just about implementing Web 2.0 technology. Rather, it is about transforming a company’s knowledge-sharing culture and influencing daily behavior patterns to ensure effective adoption and exploitation of the new social tools and processes, writes Gloria Burke for Unisys.  That’s how you get true, sustainable collaboration.

Maybe the first challenge in that transformation is getting your organization to adopt of social networking at all. Corinne Sklar, marketing director at Bluewolf Group, a leading social consulting firm, has this to say on adoption: Long emails with links to how-to web pages tend to fall victim to the I’ll-get-to-it-later email black hole. Instead, innovate with new forms of communication, the more streamlined and concise the better. As attention spans diminish providing a mix of communication tools helps your people get the info they need in the kind of short, bite-sized chunks they can absorb immediately. When going social, instant gratification counts.

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A Choice of Hybrid Systems

No enterprise data center today runs just one platform. They have Intel/Windows or some flavor(s) of UNIX/Linux as their main production systems, but they generally run a mix of platforms and operating systems, even throwing Apple, VMware, and mainframes into the mix.

Organizations end up with this mix of platforms for perfectly understandable reasons, such as acquisitions or to meet special software requirements, but it results in a certain amount of inefficiency and added cost. For example, you need to hire and retain people with multiple skill sets.

Recognizing that situation—even contributing to it with its array of platforms and operating systems—IBM introduced the concept of hybrid computing in 2010 with the zEnterprise-zBX. Through hybrid computing, an organization could run workloads concurrently on multiple hardware platforms and operating systems while managing them as a single logical system. The benefit: simplified operation and management efficiency.

IBM currently offers two hybrid platforms: the zEnterprise-zBX combination and IBM PureSystems appliances starting with PureFlex and PureApplication. Both hybrid platforms are tightly integrated, highly optimized systems that accept a variety of blades. Although there is platform overlap the two hybrid environments do not support exactly the same operating environments.

For example, PureFlex, an IaaS offering, and PureApplication, a PaaS offering brings IBM System i to the hybrid party along with Power and System x, which are supported by the zBX too, but skips the mainframe’s z/OS and z/VM operating environments. You manage the PureSystems hybrid environment with the Flex System Manager (FSM). The zEnterprise-zBX has its own hybrid management tool, the Unified Resource Manager, which looks very similar to FSM.

Despite the similarities bringing both FSM and the Unified Resource Manager together is not going to happen in any foreseeable future. That is the definitive word from Jeff Frey, IBM Fellow and CTO for System z: “Flex Manager and the Unified Resource Manager will not come together,” he told BottomlineIT.

That does not mean the zEnterprise-zBX and PureSystems won’t play nicely together, but they will do so higher up in the IT stack. “We will federate the management at a higher level,” he said. Today, that pretty much means organizations using both platforms, zEnterprise and PureSystems, will have to rely on tools like Tivoli to tie the pieces together and manage them.  At the lower levels in the stack where the hardware lives each platform will still require its own management tooling.

In effect, Tivoli will provide the federation layer and enable higher level, logical management across both systems. When you need to manage some physical aspect of the underlying hardware you still will need platform-specific tools.

IBM has two potential rivals in the hybrid computing space. Oracle/Sun offers a variety of Sun servers that run either Solaris or Windows/Linux x86 operating systems but it has offered no evidence of any interest to tightly integrate and optimize them as IBM has. Similarly, HP could couple HP-UX and Windows/Linux on both its Intel x86 and Itanium servers, but again it has given no evidence of intending to do this.  Instead, both vendors direct hybrid computing discussions to the cloud, where the different systems can play together at an even higher level of abstraction. (IBM also offers a multi-platform cloud environment.)

Meanwhile, IBM is moving forward with the next advances to its hybrid environments. For example, expect some IBM improvements incorporated into PureSystems hardware to make it into the zBX. Similarly, IBM is planning to push zBX scalability beyond the 112 blades the box supports today as well as adding clustering capabilities. The blade count expansion combined with the technology enhancements brought over from PureSystems, Frey hopes, should make clear IBM’s long term commitment to both its hybrid computing platforms.

At the same time, IBM is enhancing PureSystems for the purpose of scaling it beyond its current four appliance limit. This will give it something more like the ensemble approach used with the System z. A System z ensemble is a collection of two to eight mainframes where at least one has a zBX attached. The resources of a zEnterprise ensemble are managed and virtualized as a single pool of resources integrating system and workload management across the multi-system, multi-tier, multi-architecture environment.

With two IBM hybrid computing platforms the hybrid approach is here for real at IBM. The challenge becomes choosing the one best for your shop. Or you can seek to satisfy your hybrid computing needs through the cloud, where you will find IBM along with Oracle, HP, and a slew of others.

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