IT Management

Hybrid computing, as IBM promotes it in the zEnterprise System, flies in the face of everything data center professionals have learned over the past decades. Hybrid computing mixes the System z platform with Power and System x platforms running AIX, Linux and Windows, and manages them all through a single virtualized console, the Unified Resource Manager (zManager).

It’s counterintuitive because IT organizations have long segregated IT platforms. The Windows folks don’t talk with the System z people or the Power crowd. Each group clings to its platform for their particular applications and workloads.

Nobody disputes that some workloads perform better and are more efficient on one platform or another. The point of hybrid computing is that you can run a wide portfolio of applications on the platform best suited to each workload while efficiently managing them all as a single, virtual entity through one console of the zEnterprise. This should deliver management efficiencies that lower costs even while each workload runs on its preferred platform. Hybrid computing, in effect, promises to deliver the best of all worlds; you can have your different platforms yet still manage them efficiently as one.

“I want to run each application where we get the lowest cost and the best performance,” says Huub Meertens, head of the Support Engineering Section of EUROCONTROL, the European air traffic management organization located at Maastricht, the Netherlands. The organization runs a mix of System z, RISC, and x86 servers.

EUROCONTROL, an intergovernmental organization, was established in 1960 to ensure the safety of the increasing level of European air traffic. Currently composed of 39 member states, it aims to create a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly air traffic operation. Its mission is to deliver a single European sky to meet the safety, capacity, and performance challenges of rapidly growing European aviation in the 21st century. The Maastricht Upper Area Control Centre (MUAC) air traffic control facility is managed by four countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany. It’s responsible for the safety of air traffic above 24,500 feet in the Benelux and Northwest Germany.

Consolidation

The organization’s goal is to achieve what IBM calls a smart data center by consolidating part of the existing server environment into a virtual hybrid data center based on an IBM zEnterprise with Linux as the operating system. Ultimately, this will allow Meertens to achieve lower cost and better performance.

Achieving such an objective in IT today starts with system consolidation. EUROCONTROL, like most organizations in the last decade, found itself with a growing number and diversity of applications and the need for more server capacity. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a rapidly growing data center at the expense of the manageability and efficiency of the IT systems. By 2005, the organization decided to study the possibility of consolidating part of its customized server environment via the virtualization capabilities of the IBM System z platform.

Until embarking on this initiative, MUAC had assembled what it considered a unique platform for its applications and tools to control the air traffic in the Benelux and Northwest Germany area. Next to the extensive functionality of its applications for displaying the actual air situation unambiguously, a high demand existed for an IT infrastructure that was extremely reliable, protected against unplanned outages, and capable of executing preventive maintenance tasks while operations continued. In practice, the organization divided its workloads into strategic air traffic control and administrative and support systems. The administrative systems, specifically the Linux systems, were the target for the initial consolidation phase.

An in-depth study focusing on reliability, functionality, flexibility, migration, management, and cost of ownership showed that three options could meet all the organization’s needs:

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