Wink and a Nod
Sorry to be out of touch of late. A heavy workload and lots of travel have kept us quiet, but also begun filling the coffers with more data and user stories to tell.
This post is about mainframe-centric virtualization, something that we have been getting a lot of inquiries about since the announcement at SHARE a couple of weeks ago about IBM's new z10 mainframe. Here's the skinny:
z10 is the high end of the growing line of superservers from Big Blue. For about a million bucks, a company can deploy one of these and use it, among other things, to consolidate and virtualize upwards of 1500 x86 servers using logical partitioning technology that has been refined over the past 25 to 30 years. This isn't really news -- the virtualized environment at least -- since I can recall consolidating UNIX servers onto mainframe partitions back in the 1980s. What is very interesting about it are two things:
First, considering that the preponderance of server virtualization via VMware, etc. that is happening today involves mainly file servers and web servers (despite what VMware evangelists say, comparatively few database servers are being virtualized owing to I/O constraints inherent in VMware over x86 architecture), large companies might be seeing the sense in using mainframes for the job. The costs work out to about $600 per VM, versus 10 to 20 VMs riding on a $20K x86 server box with $3K per VM for VMware licenses when you do things the way VMware wants you to. That does NOT include the costs for trained personnel to create, implement and maintain the respective environments, which might favor x86 approaches from a short term perspective (CAPEX plus OPEX), but quickly level out or favor the mainframe solution when you are talking about 200+ servers.
A compelling argument could even be made that mainframes are greener than the x86 racks they replace. The math is simple. Numbers of x86 environments that can be consolidated into one high end x86 server (and I am being generous here): about 20. Numbers of x86 environments you can consolidate on one z10: 1500. The z10 occupies the equivalent space and consumes the equivalent power of two server racks.
The other key point worth making about this scenario is that storage behind a z10 must conform to IBM DASD rules. That means no more BS standards wars between knuckle-draggers in the storage world who continue to mitigate the heterogeneous interoperability and manageability of distributed systems storage using proprietary lock in technologies designed as much to lock in the consumer and lock out the competition as to deliver any real value. That has got to be worth something.
You may be asking, is Toigo out of his mind? Can't he remember what a pain in the tuccus IBM was during its hey day as big iron maven? The answer is, I remember all too well IBMs bad behavior. I remember kicking my account rep out of my office and barring him from ever setting foot on my campus again. Do I want to return to this state of affairs? Nope.
There are some holes in the everything virtualized on the MF, of course. For one, what do we do with all the Microsoft servers. There is no Redmond-sanctioned approach to my knowledge for virtualizing Microsoft SQL Server or Exchange Server in a mainframe partition. The OS is quite particular about resource handling and doesn't seem to want to work and play well inside an emulation environment. This explains in part why MS wares appear to run so much better in a MS Hyper-V environment on Server 2008 than in a VMware environment.
I know we can move a boatload of UNIX and Linux servers into mainframe LPARs. When I ask about Microsoft running in an LPAR, I get a wink and a nod. It can be done. In fact, there are several approaches for doing so, though none are documented as nearly as I can tell at IBM and Redmond doesn't seem to be pursuing the approach with any sort of enthusiasm. That is a gotcha for mainframe centric server consolidation in my book.
I have been talking to a lot of folks about this and would like any input anyone else might want to provide.