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.