IBM Opens Testing Center for NT-Based BI

IBM Corp. pulled together a warehouse full of hardware and know-how for partners and customers to test the limits of Intel-based business intelligence configurations.

Big Blue publicly unveiled its fourth Teraplex Integration Center this month in Raleigh, N.C. Modeled after Teraplex centers for the AS/400 in Rochester, Minn., and for the RS/6000 and S/390 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the new center focuses on IBM’s Intel-based Netfinity servers.

Sandy Carter, director of partners and alliances for Netfinity at IBM, says the center rides the waves of the company’s business intelligence and e-business initiatives.

"The business driver is that Meta Group (www.metagroup.com) reported 30 percent of data warehouse sites already exceed 1 terabyte of data, and warehouses are trending to Intel servers," Carter says. "We needed a place where companies could come and prove their products against a terabyte of data."

It is the first Teraplex showcasing large-scale efforts on Windows NT. IBM plans to highlight NT again with an upcoming Teraplex in Oregon that will be focused on the NUMA-Q architecture of recent acquisition Sequent Computer Systems Inc. (www.sequent.com).

IBM literature puts the investment in the centers -- which do not directly generate revenue for the company -- at about $63 million. Customers and partners have access to a 32-node cluster of four-way Netfinity systems sharing 8.7 terabytes of storage in Raleigh. IBM has four full-time employees on the site.

Carter says the hardware at the Netfinity Teraplex will be kept current. As an example, the center will be upgraded to 16 Netfinity eight-way machines later this year.

The goal is to give partners and customers who have chosen Netfinity as their platform a chance to push large-scale business intelligence applications to the breaking point -- then figure out how to keep them running.

Use of the site is free, but it is not open to everyone. "It’s a facility for very large customer solutions, which are really proof of concept. These are for BI solutions that are really pushing the envelope," Carter says.

Testing against a data set of a terabyte or more brings up a class of problems unfamiliar to database administrators accustomed to smaller databases, even those in the 100 to 200 GB range. IBM calls them "large system phenomena," which transform minor problems into major ones. An optimization plan that works on 200 GB of data might result in a two-day query on a terabyte, according to IBM. Such large databases are largely uncharted territory for DBAs with NT backgrounds, where 100 GB is a large database.

The center has three to five customers lined up to test business intelligence solutions, Carter says. IBM expects customers to need several weeks to work side-by-side with IBM engineers to set up and test their configurations.

Customers will have access to the Teraplex center one at a time. "A lot of the customers want to protect their data. They really want to get in there and not be looking over their shoulder," Carter says.

The first companies through the center were partners -- Hyperion Solutions Corp. (www.hyperion.com) and Microstrategy Inc. (www.microstrategy.com).

Hyperion ran its Hyperion Essbase OLAP Server along with Hyperion Integration Server, which translates between relational and multidimensional data to allow Essbase to reach into relational stores, against a 1 TB IBM DB2 Universal Database cluster at the Teraplex Center. Hyperion and IBM reported subsecond response times against the data, which consisted of about 8 billion rows of transactional data. Essbase, which is the OLAP server IBM packages with its DB2 relational database management system product, held about 10 GB of that data in an OLAP cube at a time, Hyperion officials say.

Hyperion wouldn’t have been able to conduct the test without the Teraplex center, says Lance Walter, Hyperion’s director of Essbase business product marketing. "There’s the obvious machine resource," Walters says. "Probably more important than that, IBM has the support staff there to manage that one terabyte."

Microstrategy used the center to gain IBM’s ClusterProven validation for its Microstrategy 6 line of business intelligence products. The certification is intended to show an IBM business partner’s products will continue to run in the event of a node going down in a Netfinity server cluster.

Both partners used IBM hardware and IBM’s DB2 relational database management system, as well. Carter says affinity to IBM’s flagship RDBMS is not a prerequisite for access to the center. "We did start with DB2. Based on what our competitors are demanding and requesting, we could do an engagement with Oracle. But today most of our customers are coming in on DB2."

[TOC] IBM opens Netfinity-based BI testing facility

[Art: teraplex.jpg] IBM consultants Skip Bogard (seated) and Dave Clifford in the new IBM Netfinity Teraplex Integration Center in Raleigh, N.C.