Traditional mainframe data center managers may be puzzled over all the fuss the industry is making about virtualization, especially IBM. What's the big deal? The mainframe has been a highly virtualized systems environment for decades. But something indeed has changed.
Enter Linux on the mainframe. "With the ability to run virtual Linux servers on the mainframe using z/VM or LPARs, server virtualization has suddenly come back to the mainframe in a big way. Virtualization has emerged as the central enabler of a major industry-wide effort to “get greater efficiency out of the system’s infrastructure,” says Rich Lechner, IBM vice president of virtualization. “It is a way to knit together pools of systems and data.”
IBM envisions using the mainframe as a giant virtualization hub through which organizations will consolidate dozens, hundreds, even thousands of systems, each system running as a virtual application in its own protected space. By consolidating systems on the mainframe via virtualization, organizations can achieve substantial cost reductions while cutting power consumption and reducing the amount of floor space required to house and run that many systems the conventional way.
Instead of large rooms in the data center containing rack after rack of servers, each one taking up one or several slots in the rack, these systems run as virtual images, typically Linux images, on the mainframe.
“This reduces the burgeoning growth of hardware, floor space, and power,” Lechner explains. “It also reduces the amount of labor required.”
Nationwide Insurance and Hoplon Entertainment have become IBM’s latest poster children for the joys and benefits of mainframe virtualization. Both companies use IBM System z mainframes as the hub for multiple virtualized servers.
Nationwide Insurance, a giant diversified insurance and financial services company, turned to two IBM System z/900 servers running z/VM to consolidate many individual physical Linux servers. Today, it runs 350 virtual Linux servers, deploys 12 mission-critical applications, and serves daily more than 100,000 active users with just two System z machines. Through such System z-based virtualized consolidation, Nationwide “expects to save $15 million over three years,” reports Scott Handy, IBM’s vice president for worldwide Linux and open source, at a recent analyst briefing.
Savings of this magnitude shouldn’t be surprising, given the company’s prior circumstances. Before consolidating, Nationwide calculated that 78 percent of its distributed servers consumed just 10 percent of their computing capacity. This represented a huge investment in computing resources, of which 90 percent was going to waste, but these systems also burned costly labor resources for maintenance while consuming expensive data center space, electrical power, and cooling.
The Nationwide deployment took just four months, and subsequent deployment of additional virtual servers takes only minutes through the z/VM virtualization features. Instead of deploying hundreds or thousands of servers, it now maintains two mainframes.