Determining the mainframe’s role in your private cloud strategy should be as easy as 1-2-3. We offer three key factors to consider.
By Tam Harbert
As CIOs develop strategies for building private clouds, the mainframe could play a substantial, even starring, role. After all, the mainframe’s strengths — reliability, availability, manageability and security — address some of the top concerns that CIOs have about cloud computing.
Although most clouds are based on distributed computing, there’s a growing awareness that cloud can encompass a variety of architectures. In fact, cloud computing is a way to decouple business services and applications from the underlying infrastructure, explains Jean S. Bozman, Research Vice President in IDC’s Enterprise Server Group. “It’s really up to the cloud service provider or the enterprise as to what kind of engines they want to put behind those cloud-delivered business services.”
In a recent survey conducted by CA Technologies, 73 percent of 200 senior-level mainframe decision makers in the U.S. said that mainframes were a part of their future cloud plans. The exact role of the mainframe in the cloud, however, is still being determined. “That is the big question,” says Dayton Semerjian, General Manager, Mainframe, CA Technologies. “Many of our customers are trying to evaluate that right now.” CA Technologies recently announced an evolution of its mainframe strategy to reflect current trends. (See related blog.)
Experts and CIOs say there are many considerations that will help determine whether to use mainframes in your private cloud environment and how to optimize their use. Here are three key considerations:
Consider IFL processors: Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processors or other IBM mainframe specialty processors are worth considering. Over the past decade, IFLs have become increasingly popular because they create virtualized Linux servers on the mainframe, allowing applications to run less expensively and/or at higher performance than in a distributed architecture. IDC estimates that about 30 percent of all IBM System z mainframes are being shipped with IFL processors, according to Bozman.
Evaluate the business services: Gary Barnett, Partner and CTO at The Bathwick Group, a U.K.-based consultancy, says that the sort of business services you want to deliver through the cloud is a huge consideration. Some services are ideal to run on the mainframe; others more suited to distributed computing, he says. For example, if the business service relies on DB2 data stored on the mainframe, it makes sense for your business service to use this data on the mainframe rather than deal with latency issues that can slow down processing on distributed platforms, says Barnett. A mainframe offers “big advantages in terms of intermachine communication,” he says. “It can make a significant difference in performance.” On the other hand, some Web-service applications might be more suited to a distributed architecture.
Determine Time and Expense: It’s also wise to determine the time and expense involved in moving applications to a mainframe versus distributed platforms; many applications adapt very well to mainframes and suppliers are usually willing to help. “Whenever I have an application that will run on Linux, the first thing we do is to put it onto Linux on System z and see how it operates,” says Bill Thirsk, Vice President of IT and CIO at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which has two System z mainframes. “If it just requires a small change – and that’s usually all it requires - then we make those small coding changes and we run it on the Z.” Marist is running most of its administrative and academic applications on two mainframes, but still runs the college’s unified communications system on an IBM P-Series midrange computer and some math-intensive student applications run on X86 blades.
Besides technology, human resources may be a factor—though not a critical one-- in deciding which server platform to use as well. It’s OK to ask whether you have the staff skills required to run a cloud on the mainframe, but don’t shy away from it right off the bat. Although additional training may be required, it could be easier than you think, particularly if your staff already knows Linux. Thirsk says his setup requires only two mainframe professionals, both of whom were quickly and easily trained on how to manage the System z. “For everyone else, it just looks like a Unix box.”
Ultimately, CIOs should apply the same evaluation criteria to the mainframe as they would to any cloud computing environment, says Barnett. This includes a thorough inventory of assets and an understanding of their workloads. “There is no such thing as a magic cloud environment,” he says.
Tam Harbert is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in technology and business.
ASK THE EXPERTS
Gary Barnett. CTO, The Bathwick Group
In 2007 Gary joined the Bathwick Group as Partner and CTO where he leads technology research and manages development of the company's technology platform.
Originally a software engineer developing mainframe applications in Cobol, Gary became a client-server software architect, designing and leading the implementation of several large (10,000-clients plus) applications. He has also help positions as IT and membership manager for the Royal Yachting Association, and at Ovum where he ran the company's application development practice. From there, he took over Ovum's middleware practice and ran the company's research organization in Boston for two years. In his last two years at Ovum Gary worked as a Research Director.
Jean S. Bozman, Research VP, IDC Enterprise Server Group
Jean has more than 20 years of experience covering operating environments, servers and the workloads that run on servers. She began her career at IDC in 1996, focusing on the worldwide market for server operating systems. In her current role, she analyzes the server market and manages the Clustering and Availability Software (CLAS) market research for IDC.
Previously, Jean was an editor at Computerworld, becoming Senior West Coast Editor in 1989, and covering the open-systems market. She holds a degree from the State University of New York and a master's degree from Stanford University.
Dayton Semerjian, General Manager, CA Technologies
Dayton is general manager of CA Technologies Mainframe Customer Solutions Unit. His team drives the company’s Mainframe 2.0 strategy and brings to market a broad portfolio of mainframe management software. In this role, Dayton is responsible for setting the vision, business strategy, product management and marketing and driving the overall P&L.
Dayton has been designing, building, and growing businesses that deliver superior performance and financial returns for almost 20 years. Previously, as corporate Senior VP and General Manager of CA’s Global Business Unit Operations, Dayton was responsible for business unit optimization, development process and quality, product portfolio management, and offshore development.
He joined CA through the acquisition of Concord Communications Inc., where he served as the Executive VP of Marketing and Strategic Alliances. As VP of Worldwide Marketing at Shiva Corp., he executed a turnaround strategy that ultimately led to acquisition by Intel Corp. As a strategy consultant for Mercer Management Consulting, he developed profitable growth strategies for Fortune 500 companies. Dayton earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor degree from the University of Massachusetts.
William Thirsk, Vice President and CIO, Marist College
Bill became CIO of Marist in June 2007 where he oversees all areas of information technology and also the copy center and post office.
Bill has a long career in higher education technology management and as a campus technology officer. He previously served as the SunGard Managed Services CIO at Mercy College, and as Executive Director of Technology and CIO of St. Thomas University in Miami, Fla. He was also Director of Computing at Campbell University in North Carolina, and Director of Administrative Computing at Washington College in Maryland.
Bill has a degree in Business Administration from George Washington University and an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.