Critics of infrastructure “clouds” often debate the prospects of the burgeoning infrastructure model to deliver its promised business value. Storage clouds, for example, are supposed to provide capacity on demand, dependability and predictability in terms of service levels, and, of course, secure hosting of irreplaceable data assets. All this is accomplished in a manner that facilitates ease of allocation and management, supports operational efficiency and agility, and delivers the kind of flexibility that enables IT resources to adapt dynamically to the changing needs of the business at a significantly reduced cost.

Are the promises vendors are making around storage clouds just fantasy? No! A similar well-managed, virtual storage infrastructure already exists—in the mainframe data center. From the beginning of the Big Iron era, the discipline of storage administration was enhanced by tools built into early mainframe operating systems, such as Data Facility Hierarchical Storage Manager (DFHSM) and System Managed Storage (SMS).

Over the years, CA Technologies has augmented these storage automation capabilities with tools of our own. For example, we’ve recently developed advanced technology for virtual tape backup to the cloud—leveraging commodity disk assets in smart ways and enabling the use of specialty processors where appropriate to ensure non-disruptive data protection operations. These tools are now being extended into distributed storage assets and then into cloud infrastructure. Similarly, we’ve found proactive methods to deal with the potentially expensive expansion of capacity demand when mainframe DASD is used as a virtual tape library, methods that leverage total solutions, including de-duplication technology. These tools, too, are now being ported to storage clouds.

We’re undertaking these efforts, in part, to satisfy the requests of many of our customers who are seeking to integrate System z with storage clouds. CA Technologies, now partnered with well-established cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), is uniquely positioned to contribute in this space. We already boast a broad portfolio of software tools aimed both at improving the capabilities and reliability of clouds and also at streamlining and simplifying the administration and management of mainframes. Our efforts ultimately aim at realizing three key business values: flexibility, manageability and economics. 

Flexibility. We’re seeking to provide business IT planners with tools that enable them to work with existing and nascent technologies to build infrastructure quickly that can be shaped with the right resources and services to fit fast-changing business requirements. In storage, this may mean ensuring data is associated with “containers” or volumes that deliver the “right” combination of accessibility, security and data protection services (e.g., those required for the data given its business context) as well as the most economical use of capacity.

Manageability. Second, we’ve worked to move the legendary management capabilities of the mainframe, which enable a very small staff to manage a huge number of processes and very large quantities of data, to the cloud. In so doing, cloud solutions are imbued with enterprise-class reliability and users can have greater confidence in the ability of hybrid architecture to deliver promised service levels.

Economics. Third, we’ve focused on realizing the economies made possible by efficient mainframe-style operations and the shared infrastructure models of clouds. Our work has focused on building workspaces and tools that provide near-real-time visibility into the operations of the hybrid infrastructure and additional management capabilities that facilitate the dynamic allocation and de-allocation of resources and services to applications and business processes.

Bottom line: Cloud concepts appear to be coalescing into actual architecture as firms seek to optimize their internal IT infrastructure investment or obtain services and/or infrastructure from shared public resources. In many ways, clouds can be viewed as an effort to improve the design of distributed computing platforms to afford them the flexibility, manageability and economy that was traditionally derived from mainframe environments. In shops that already have mainframes deployed, the building of clouds in the distributed infrastructure can benefit from the far more mature capabilities of mainframe technology to bolster and enhance the current cloud model. Our goal has been to bolster the integration of mainframe and cloud technology, forming ecosystems of leading hardware and cloud service vendors to help simplify the roll-out of hybrid cloud-mainframe computing strategies that can leverage the best of both worlds.