“It would relieve us of a lot of capital investment,” he recalls. “We wouldn’t have to spend our money on clusters of servers.”
Hoplon also wouldn’t even have to invest in a System z mainframe; the company runs its virtualized games, a combination of Java and C code, on an IBM eServer System z 900 hosted at an IBM center in Brazil. System z virtualization on the mainframe also would address the challenge of rapidly expanding capacity.
“If a game becomes very popular, we can put up a new image of the game on a virtual server in under three minutes,” reports Teles.
As new gamers join, they would be handled by the new virtual servers, but they would be communicating across the same network, enabling every gamer to interact with every other gamer.
Mainframe Virtualization Advantages
Virtualization on the mainframe brings several advantages, including higher-scale economies, says Kawika Daguio, director of the Master of Science program in information assurance at Northeastern University, Boston. The organization also can offer services and applications normally provided on other platforms, such as Linux—applications not ordinarily available on the mainframe.
In addition, through virtualization, “certain environments can get managed with more discipline,” Daguio adds. Applications and services that run in the distributed environment and suffer from inconsistent or even non-existent management discipline can now run on the mainframe, where they benefit from classic mainframe operations discipline. For example, data will be properly stored and backed up, security will be nailed down, and more.
There are other benefits to mainframe virtualization, notes Daguio. These include enabling the organization to safely test things. Applications or services run virtually in a protected partition. If they blow up, they don’t impact anything else. Organizations also can continue to run systems they otherwise couldn’t, maybe because they’ve become obsolete.
Flexibility may be the biggest advantage virtualization brings to the mainframe.
“CIOs understand the need for flexible business processes and for flexibility in the infrastructure,” says Lechner. “Virtualization can address all these issues.”
The message certainly is getting out. IBM recently reported more than 1,000 customers deploying virtualized Linux on System z. To spur virtualization on Linux, IBM has reduced the price of its Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) and reports that 40 percent of its top-100 mainframe accounts deploy on average eight IFLs each. More than 800 Linux on System z projects are in production.
With the combination of Linux virtualization and low-end System z machines starting at $95,000, IBM believes the value proposition for server consolidation on the System z is strong. Overall, the mainframe uses a small fraction of the electrical energy for the same amount of computing power as physical distributed servers and requires only one-quarter of the floor space, said Florence Hudson, IBM vice president for marketing and strategy, at the analyst briefing. The addition of various System z assist processors for running Java applications, Web serving, XML processing, and database-intensive applications on z/OS can add to the utility of the mainframe.
Although Lechner regards virtualization as a strategic architectural decision that will have a profound impact on how the organization deploys its system infrastructure long into the future, that’s not how you should start.
“You have to start with an isolated, tactical project,” he says. “That way you get a fast ROI.” What’s a fast tactical project? Consolidating a small handful of servers is probably your best bet. With tools available for the System z and z/VM, you can get Linux applications up and running in logical partitions quickly and painlessly. The gains should be easy to identify and quantify. The biggest obstacle won’t be technical but organizational.
“Expect organizational resistance,” warns Lechner.
By demonstrating an attractive ROI with a quick tactical project, resistance to System z virtualization should quickly crumble.