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IBM sings praise for mixed workloads but some iSeries users appear tone deaf

Despite IBM's enthusiasm for its Integrated xSeries at this week's COMMON Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., users remain hesitant about running mixed workloads. However, analysts say it's the wave of the future, and the iSeries is primed.

ORLANDO -- IBM Corp. is touting the iSeries as the perfect platform for managing multiple workloads, but some users attending this week's COMMON Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla., say they just don't see any advantages to operating anything on the iSeries except OS/400 -- not yet anyway.

Still, Big Blue talked up the iSeries' ability to run additional platforms, such as Windows and Linux, said Al Zollar, general manager of the iSeries, in his presentation during the iSeries Nation session to executives on the exhibit floor. Gartner analyst Tom Bittman, also championed the importance of platform integration during his keynote address on Sunday.

The integrating of workloads is just a piece of IBM's much larger and far-reaching strategy of on-demand computing. On-demand is a strategy intended to deliver computing resources the way a power utility doles out electricity. On-demand computing integrates users across a company with key partners, suppliers and customers, and encompasses not just the concept of integration, but also server consolidation, virtualization, Web services and autonomic computing.

The advantage of running multiple workloads is that it makes server management easier and allows shops to more efficiently share resources. In other words, it allows for a virtualized environment. Just as important, it allows for server consolidation -- a hot industry trend.

"The idea behind mixing workloads," said Paulo Carvao, vice president, iSeries sales, "is to create this virtualized environment. By virtualization, we can simplify the IT infrastructure, increase utilization and ultimately reduce the total cost of ownership."

A virtualized world

At the core of the campaign to run multiple workloads is IBM's Integrated xSeries. When iSeries users started to demand a way to manage the growing number of Windows servers in their environment, IBM introduced the Integrated xSeries Adapter as part of the V5R1 announcement in 2001. Prior to the V5R1 announcement, Windows integration was supported by an internal single processor PC server.

The Integrated xSeries Adapter provides the high-speed direct attachment of selected xSeries servers to the iSeries server. The adapter supports the Windows 2000 Server and the Windows 2000 Advanced Server running on the xSeries server.

During his keynote address, Bittman outlined a number of the challenges IBM faces, but said the ability of the iSeries to run multiple platforms was one of IBM's major strengths. "One thing that the iSeries does really well," said Bittman, "is mixing workloads." As a result, the "iSeries fits well into the virtualization world."

Zollar, nearly a year at the helm as chief of the iSeries division, rallied for on-demand during his iSeries Nation session address. "It's all about moving away from silos," he said, referring to the industry's current vertical approach to computing.

Integration and the mixing of workloads takes a horizontal approach to computing, he said, and gives businesses "the ability to share IT resources across assets."

Zollar cited a recent report by Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. that said small- and medium-sized businesses can achieve significant cost savings by consolidating workloads onto the iSeries from industry-standard Intel servers that were running Microsoft Windows and Linux workloads.

The report, which was sponsored by IBM, noted that savings also came from reducing system administration head count and avoiding operational costs associated with server downtime.

Touting integration success stories

Not surprisingly, Zollar attempted to drive the point home with a handful of customer success stories.

Brendan Carlton, a system administrator with DeSoto, Kan.-based packaging company Huhtamaki Americas, said his department, which is one of the companies IDC describes in its report, has quickly recouped its initial outlay of cash to consolidate. But the real cost savings, said Carlton, is that they were able to do more with less.

"It helps us focus on ways to improve productivity," he said.

Carlton consolidated approximately 40 Windows servers using iSeries' Integrated xSeries Adapter card, which linked to free-standing IBM xSeries systems.

One of the earliest adopters of platform integration is Beverly Russell of E.D. Smith & Sons, Winona, Ontario. She said using the Integrated xSeries Adapter made backup more efficient. Russell said her group was also looking to make the environment feel like one piece instead of an architecture of mixed platforms. "It really tied it all together," she said, and rid them of that "flakierMicrosoft environment."

However, many of the attendees at COMMON are not known for being early adopters, despite IBM's showcasing of these customers. In fact, many tend to be the "wait-and-see" kind of users.

So while they were interested in what Zollar, Bittman and others had to say, few appeared willing to do the same thing -- not now anyway.

Brian Bailey, operations development manager, First Community Bank, Bluefield, Va., said he sees no need for running mixed workloads but says there's pressure to do so from groups outside of IT. "The biggest problem is that the average person identifies with the Windows platform," said Bailey.

But Bailey's colleague Brian Broyles, an iSeries security administrator said he's in the middle of a push-me-pull-me game for his attention. He said vendors are pushing him to run only their applications on one box. However, Broyles wonders if that's a mistake.

"Do you want to put all your eggs in one basket?" he asked.

And there's still plenty of mistrust about putting Windows anywhere near OS/400. Many iSeries users have issues with security.

"One of the things we find is that the OS/400 is so stable, we don't want to risk putting Windows on the platform," said Barry Craver, IT manager, Old Dominion Freight Line, Thomasville, N.C.

According to Ceceila Maresse, vice president of iSeries marketing, the security of the iSeries is not compromised by letting Windows reside on the platform. Nor does putting Windows on the iSeries make Windows less vulnerable to holes, worms and attacks. "However," said Maresse, "it does make security easier to manage."

However, Craver said that his company's main applications are on an AS/400. "Windows isn't, so there's really no reason to mix workloads," and he said while they might consider it, it doesn't look like they will anytime soon.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Q&A: Zollar sells SMBs on Linux

IDC: Users find big benefits to server consolidation

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