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System z GM Doug Balog: Mainframe Provides the Foundation for a Secure Cloud


Doug Balog, general manager, IBM System z. Photograph by Matthew Greenslade

The recent release of IBM SmartCloud* technology for System z* seeks to change how private cloud computing is implemented. By combining the mainframe platform’s exceptional virtualization, security and efficiency capabilities with an automated toolset, IBM is unleashing the power of the zEnterprise* System for cloud computing.

To learn more about how the zEnterprise ecosystem is ideally suited for cloud computing as well as the future of cloud, IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition, spoke with Doug Balog, general manager, IBM System z.

Q. In pioneering virtualization technology, the IBM mainframe is a logical fit for cloud computing, isn’t it?
A. The mainframe was built upon a long history of virtualization. It’s really the foundation of our platform. Virtualization has transformed the way enterprises use technology—offering them greater flexibility and the capability to tune their technology based on business needs. We recently celebrated 40 years of z/VM* technology, and it’s as critical today as it was then. It’s been the most virtualized platform—for the longest time—in the industry. And that continues to be a great way in which we differentiate ourselves in the market. Arguably, the mainframe was a cloud before cloud had a name.

Q. Why is the System z platform such a good one for building a cloud environment?
A. If you look at the requirements clients request in a cloud, it starts with ultimate security. Security is a major concern when running multiple tenants in the cloud—tenants being multiple users. They each want their own domain, their own protection, and they don’t want to share data between domains. They want to know their information is protected. Security is a top requirement for enterprise cloud deployments, and the zEnterprise System builds the highest levels of security available—beginning with the chips, all the way to the system level.

This notion that cloud equals x86, I just don’t fundamentally believe that. As we get used to private or public clouds, we’re going to find that the world isn’t homogeneous. It never has been. I don’t think it ever will be.”
—Doug Balog, general manager, IBM System z

Q. What other System z characteristics are key?
A. One important characteristic for clouds is this capability to run multiple tenants—to have multiple different and, at times, competing tenants—whether it’s organizations inside a company or in a public cloud. You must be able to support and adjust to meet their needs. Virtualization is another important attribute. Certainly there are virtualization choices in the market, but no platform is more capable of virtualization than the mainframe. It can house up to hundreds of thousands of Linux* partitions on virtual machines. Hundreds of thousands of virtual machines on a single platform is just unheard of elsewhere in the industry. That’s a very strong differentiator for the mainframe. The net effect of dramatic savings in software licenses and additional savings in power, floor space and labor costs can dramatically reduce the cost of operations related to managing workloads.

Q. Is that all?
A. Not at all. So you’ve got security, you’ve got this great virtualization capability, and then you have the capability to be efficient at scale. It’s not uncommon; in fact, it’s very common for clients to consistently run their mainframe at 95 percent utilization. That’s the way the system is designed to run. It’s not a benchmark or some gimmick. It’s a real, live workload description.

That efficiency translates into cost-benefit to the user. For example, if you buy other assets and only get 20 to 30 percent utilization out of them, then arguably you’ve got 70 to 80 percent waste. You want to build a cloud deployment on something you’re going to get 100 percent out of, and the mainframe’s been designed to run that way all of the time, constantly.

In addition, with the newly announced zEnterprise EC12, there’s 50 percent greater capacity than with our previous zEnterprise—and 25 percent faster processing—offering even greater flexibility and room for growth.

Q. Beyond these System z capabilities, bringing the zEnterprise System to the IBM SmartCloud adds another dimension to this discussion, doesn’t it?
A. Yes. The IBM zEnterprise System is an exciting offering because it’s the first truly heterogeneous technology we’ve introduced. On top of everything I’ve been describing in terms of the System z platform, it brings to bear the capability within a deployment to run not only mainframe and Linux applications but also other operating systems on other architectures. Plus, it does so in a very tightly managed, tightly controlled workload-provisioning type of environment. As an example, not only can you run Linux on the mainframe processor, you can run Linux or Microsoft* Windows* on x86 or Intel* processors. You can run AIX* on POWER* processors. You can run DataPower*, which is IBM’s XML accelerator offering.

Q. For IBM clients, what does this heterogeneous approach mean for the cloud?
A. A lot of people think that cloud translates into one architecture. “I’m going to build it, it’s going to be x86-based, I’m going to scale it out and buy lots of these things and I’m going to get the efficiencies provided by that single architecture.” We disagree. The zEnterprise System gives you those different architectures, which therefore allow for different service levels, depending on what the cloud-based application needs. If the application has lesser service-level needs, we can run that workload in a zEnterprise BladeCenter* Extension. If it has greater service-level needs around security, multitenancy capabilities and efficiency, then you can run that in the z/OS* side of the zEnterprise System.

The zEnterprise environment offers this heterogeneous capability, all within a single management footprint. With the Unified Resource Manager, clients can look at that system as though it’s one system and intelligently manage the placement of workloads, based on the service levels. That’s unique in the marketplace and a concept clients have embraced.

Mike Westholder is managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition.


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