Windows on Mainframes Due December 16

Windows on the Big Blue's hardware is almost here.

Windows on the mainframe is just a little more than a month away.

Make that Windows right next to the mainframe -- i.e., running on the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX), the mainframe/open systems sidecar that IBM Corp. unveiled with its new zEnterprise 196 mainframe last year.

By December 16 of this year, IBM says it plans to support Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter Edition running in a zBX chassis on its HX5 blades.

Big Blue made it official just last month, when it announced a slew of new or updated mainframe products, including a DB2 Analytics Accelerator for z/OS and revamped versions of both z/VSE and z/VM, and yes, the official announcement of Windows-for-the-zBX. Now that the news is official, what does it mean?

First, Windows-in-a-zBX isn't Windows-in-zVM. Still less is it Windows running in a special processor, a la IBM's Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL).

So Windows won't be running on non-x64 -- i.e., Big Iron -- CMOS.

Nevertheless, customers will be able to manage Windows from their zEnterprise 196 or zEnterprise 114 mainframes, using Big Blue's zEnterprise Unified Resource Manager (URM) to administer their mainframe and BladeCenter platforms as a single virtualized system.

This includes enforcing policy-based workload and resource management on a platform-wide basis, across z/OS, z/VSE, Linux, Windows, and Unix systems, too, because zBX can host any of three versions of IBM's AIX Unix variant (AIX 5.3, AIX 6.1, or AIX 7.1), running on PS701 Power-based blades.

This, mainframe boosters say, is a Very Big Thing.

For big users of Big Iron, in fact, the idea of a mainframe-centered platform ecosystem -- where mainframe, Linux, Java, Unix, and Windows workloads can be managed in a single environment -- might prove to be attractive.

For many, it could be a case for mainframe recentralization. "This case will be based on the zEnterprise's centralized management efficiency, the potential for greater optimization, and the resulting performance improvements. It's a good story that could catch on if IBM keeps the pricing competitive," wrote veteran industry watcher Alan Radding, who writes the DancingDinosaur blog, shortly after IBM announced its intention to support Windows-in-a-zBX earlier this year.

Fast forward six months, and Radding says he sees a reasonable opportunity for success, particularly in some server-consolidation scenarios.

"Linux server consolidation already is a proven workload. It remains to be seen which Windows applications get moved to zBX Windows blades. Enterprises will likely pick and choose among Windows workloads," wrote Radding, in a blog entry last month. "The initial workloads will probably be those that will benefit from close proximity to DB2 data residing on the z196 or z114. The same could probably be said for the initial AIX workloads heading to Power blades."

Neither Radding nor Big Blue seems to anticipate a lock-stock-and-barrel consolidation shift, still less a "massive" movement. That said, he argues, there are scenarios in which large-scale consolidation does make sense.

"[C]ompanies will use tuned-for-task/fit-for-purpose analyses to select the best prospective workloads. The exception being distributed Linux workloads [because] a z196 can handle more than a thousand Linux virtual machines. And already there is an Enterprise Linux Solution Edition program for such massive consolidation on z," Radding points out.

Another Mainframe Analytic Offering, Another Acronym

IBM last month served up still another hardware analytic offering for System z.

IBM already markets a zBX-based analytics offering for zEnterprise: its Smart Analytics Optimizer (SAO) for DB2 for z/OS. That offering was based on technology that IBM built in-house prior to its September, 2010 acquisition of the former Netezza Inc.

Big Blue's new DB2 Analytics Accelerator (DAA) for z/OS version 2.1, on the other hand, is based on the massively parallel processing (MPP) analytic database technology it acquired from Netezza.

The DAA is not a replacement, per se, for the Smart Analytics Optimizer -- even though, for most analytic workloads, the MPP-based DAA will likely be faster.

The rub, from a mainframe perspective, is that IAA -- unlike the SOA -- doesn't run in a zBX context, which means that it can't be managed by the URM.

IBM officials had offered hints about the new DAA ahead of its actual announcement. At TDWI's World Conference this summer, Razi Raziuddin, director of product marketing for IBM Netezza, said that Big Blue was prepping a Netezza-based analytic offering for mainframe systems. Raziuddin declined to go into specifics on the record, but promised that IBM would be making some "very interesting announcements in the October time frame."

At the time, he made the case for pairing mainframe-based workloads with both Smart Analytics and Netezza analytic systems.

"While Netezza excels at running analytic workloads, even within the gamut of analytic workloads that customers want to run, we don't do it all extremely well. There are areas of analytics that the Smart Analytics system does a phenomenal job of filling, whether it's [as] an operational data store or running queries and transactions," he commented.

"We have banks [where] customers are running analytics on consumer credit card transactions as they're happening. These are ... analytics that need to be done almost in real time or in near-real time. These are capabilities that with the features we have on Netezza we cannot easily do."

zVSE, zVM Updates, Too

Also last month, IBM announced version 6.2 of z/VM and version 5.1 of z/VSE.

The revamped z/VM supports multi-system virtualization clustering, which permits mainframe operators to cluster up to four z/VM instances in a Single System Image (SSI). Among other benefits, SSI helps facilitate Live Guest Relocation of Linux virtual servers, which permits a shop to move Linux virtual servers without first shutting them down. Because it enables mainframe operators to move or shift running workloads to other system resources, SSI helps improve workload balancing, too. Other z/VM 6.1 benefits include an improved systems management feature set and IPv6 support.

Big Blue's z/VSE 5.1 update finallyintroduces 64-bit support for new z/VSE workloads. It introduces a number of new features, but also entails at least one major new requirement -- namely, an architectural level set (ALS) of System z9 or later.

New features include IEDN support, which helps connect z/VSE to zBX; z/VSE z/VM IP Assist, which permits specified z/VSE TCP/IP apps -- running as z/VM guests -- to access an external network without requiring a z/VSE TCP/IP stack; support for 4096-bit RSA keys used with Crypto Express3; and Midrange Workload License Charges (MWLC) pricing with a subcapacity option.

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