IBM Puffs Up New Public, Private SmartCloud Releases
Published: June 4, 2012
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Just like any other product, public and private clouds have to change and evolve to get more relevant and to keep pace with the competition. IBM has made a lot of promises with its SmartCloud private cloud infrastructure, which you install in your data center to create virtual cloudy server and storage slices, and its SmartCloud Enterprise and Enterprise+ clouds, which Big Blue launched a little more than a year ago and said it would flesh out a bit more.
With a bunch of announcements just before the Memorial Day holiday here in the United States, IBM is making good on a bunch of those promises, revving up the software it has created for private clouds and getting its high-end public cloud offering out the door based on X86 and Power systems iron and promising to get a mainframe-based cloud out the door before the end of the year.
The SmartCloud Entry V2.3, which started shipping on May 25 and which was previously known as Starter Kit for Cloud on Power, is a similar stack of virtual infrastructure software that IBM rolled up and is placing on its PureSystem modular servers. SmartCloud Entry V2.3 for Power debuts in announcement letter 212-251, and it builds on the PowerVM hypervisor for Power Systems servers and Systems Director VMControl to virtualize AIX and Linux logical partition images and to orchestrate their deployment and running.
SmartCloud Entry has basic metering capability so you can implement pay-per-use for CPU, memory, and disk capacity on the Power machines. The metering software, which is at the heart of all cloudy software stacks, has REST APIs and file exchange mechanisms so they can be programmatically controlled and linked to other third-party tools like trouble ticketing systems. IBM doesn't say much about how this SmartCloud Entry private cloud controller is coded, but does say that it has packaged it up with a Java runtime environment so presumably the back-end parts of it are all written in Java. If has a self-service portal for end users to requisition virtual machines and software images to run on top of them and the administration tools to start, halt, restart, and migration VMs. The Systems Director software with the VMControl module allows for physical and virtual server images to be managed from the same console and also helps admins create "golden images" of software stacks to be deployed on PowerVM LPARs.
IBM charges for SmartCloud Entry, which goes by the product number 5765-SKC in the IBM catalog, on a per-core basis plus Software Maintenance. Assuming the prices are the same even though the name has changed and the release has been revved, you can see the prices here. On a small machine, you are talking about $80 per core, with a medium machine costing $200 per core and a large machine costing $400 per core.
IBM put out a statement of direction back in announcement letter 211-312 in November 2011 when V2.2 came out saying that it would eventually let SmartCloud Entry manage IBM i images, but as far as I can tell this has not happened yet with V2.3. But you can bet that IBM is working on it now that live partition mobility is shipping with IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 4.
IBM has also juiced its SmartCloud Entry for System x software stack to make private clouds on its X86-based iron to the V2.3 level in announcement letter 212-206. This stack includes Systems Director Standard Edition V6.3 for X86 servers, Systems Director Storage Control V4.2.1, and Tivoli Provisioning Manager for Images V18.104.22.168. IBM has updated this stack to support VMware's latest ESXi 5.0 hypervisor and related vSphere 5.0 hypervisor management tools. It also adds support for VMware's live migration of running virtual machines through the vCenter console and the Distributed Resource Scheduler add-on, which allows vCenter to shut down and fire up servers as needed and to consolidate the workloads on as few physical servers as possible to keep them meeting their service levels. The SmartCloud Entry V2.3 software runs on any IBM BladeCenter or System x server and is priced based on a per-system basis for the machines under management (not per core). It has the product number 5641-SK1, and I can't find the price for it anywhere obvious.
Presumably, IBM has figured out that it has plenty of hybrid shops that will want to mix Power and X86 iron and that the SmartCloud Entry tools should do that and all at consistent pricing.
Now Addressing John Q Public Cloud
SmartCloud is also the brand that IBM has slapped onto its public cloud, which is a set of X86 and Power systems that are run using its SmartCloud tools on behalf of customers like any other hoster trying to break into the cloud big-time to compete against industry juggernaut Amazon Web Services, which sells compute, storage, and networking infrastructure by the time and capacity slice and which also peddles load balancing, data munching, database, and other services under a utility pricing model.
IBM has just goosed its two public clouds, SmartCloud Enterprise and SmartCloud Enterprise+, to the V2.1 level.
SmartCloud Enterprise V2.1 is an X86-only public cloud that uses Red Hat's KVM hypervisor to virtualize the underlying systems. The problem with cloud announcements, just like other services announcements, is that vendors don't give out a lot of details, so when IBM says it has upgraded the KVM hypervisor underlying SmartCloud Enterprise, we don't know where it was or where it went to. But what I can tell you is that IBM says the upgraded KVM has better scalability in terms of the number and size of VMs it can manage on a host and that the performance of those VMs is also better.
IBM already supported the running of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 operating systems on this entry public cloud as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 and 5.5 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 (either 32-bit or 64-bit versions) on top of KVM on its cloud, and with the V2.1 update, IBM is adding on the latest RHEL 5.8 and 6.2 updates.
The other big change is that IBM is boosting the service level agreement (SLA) on SmartCloud Enterprise from a 99.5 percent to a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. (Well, IBM has to pay you back if it doesn't meet the SLA, which is not the same thing as guaranteeing the SLA. But this is how people talk about SLAs, no matter how inaccurate they are being with the language.) That drops the downtime from around 48 hours per year to a little shy of nine hours. (If IBM wanted to impress me, it would give a 99.999 percent guarantee, which would mean no more than 5 minutes of downtime per year for virty server slices.)
Like other cloudy infrastructure providers, IBM is charging by the hour for virtual slices of CPU, memory, storage, and networking capacity; you can see the full price list at this link. Between now and June 11, you can play around with slices for free, which you can learn all about here. IBM offers slices that range from a "copper" configuration with one 1.2 GHz virtual CPU, 2 GB of virtual memory, and 60 GB of local storage for the virtual machine to a high of 16 virtual CPUs (basically, a full X86 machine), 16 GB of virtual memory, and 2 TB of disk space. You can also buy persistent block storage ranging from 60 GB to 10 TB and object storage that comes with either 99.9 or 99.99 percent uptime guarantees.
The SmartCloud Enterprise+ hybrid Power-X86 cloud that IBM was promising to deliver last April is now available in North America and Europe. Big Blue plans to roll it out in other data centers in other geographical regions in the third quarter of this year. SmartCloud Enterprise+ puts VMware's ESXi hypervisor on the X86 servers and PowerVM on the Power Systems machines and dices and slices the capacity while offering a sliding scale of availability on the virtual capacity. The higher the uptime, the more you pay, but good luck trying to figure out how much.
When SmartCloud Enterprise+ went into preview last November, IBM had a blanket 99.9 percent uptime SLA, just as it is now offering on the more rudimentary and X86-only SmartCloud Enterprise. The uptime is not all that impressive at the bronze level, with 98.5 percent uptime. That's about what a standalone Windows NT 4.0 server could deliver at the end of the 1990s. That's five and a half days of possible downtime per year, and that is certainly not acceptable for any customer-facing application. The silver level of SmartCloud Enterprise+ boosts that to 99.5 percent uptime, gold gets you to 99.7 percent (that's a little more than a day of downtime) and platinum gets you to that 99.9 percent SLA. The silver SLA lets your VM move within a physical server cluster to help make that uptime commitment, and the gold level does automatic VM restarting when something crashes. The platinum level makes sure your VMs and disk files are replicated on two distinct disk arrays.
The Power portions of the SmartCloud Enterprise+ public cloud you can small configurations that range from one virtual CPU, 2 GB of virtual memory, and 64 GB of disk for the OS and software stack to a big ole slice that has 16 virtual CPUs (basically a quarter of a fully loaded two-socket box with Power7 chips and threading turned on or a whole machine if threading is turned off), 32 GB of virty memory, and 512 GB of local disk. At the moment the Power slices can run only AIX 6.1, which is probably the most popular recent release of IBM's Unix. It is not clear when AIX 7.1 or Linux will be supported, or IBM i 6.1 or 7.1 for that matter. But as I have said a zillion times before, there's no way IBM i should not be an option of the SmartCloud Enterprise+ public cloud.
This is particularly true given the fact that IBM announced that it would be putting System z mainframe slices on the SmartCloud Enterprise+ public cloud. System z mainframes will be added to the public cloud for customers in the United States and the United Kingdom later in 2012; IBM has not said when it will be available globally, but you can bet that the financial services companies located in New York and London are driving this requirement if it is not just a marketing stunt. (I don't think it is, by the way. And I can't wait to see what SLA these System z slices have. I will bet Ginni Rometty's last dollar that it will have five nines of availability, just as a matter of principle and despite the fact that you could make a Power or X86 cloud five nines available if you wanted.) The mainframe slices will run IBM's z/OS operating system, its CICS transaction monitor, its DB2 and IMS databases, its WebSphere application server, and its WebSphereMQ message queuing middleware.
IBM has also started a pilot of its SmartCloud Application Services platform-as-a-service cloud, which will expose runtime, middleware, and database services to customers without them having to manage the underlying virtual infrastructure on the SmartCloud public cloud run by Big Blue. At the moment, this platform cloud pilot includes WebSphere and DB2 services as well as cloudy instances of SAP ERP software. This pilot is available for free, but you have to nudge your way to the front of the line to convince IBM to let you give it a spin. IBM expects for SmartCloud Application Services to be available in the third quarter.
It goes without saying that you could crank up an IBM i server and convert it to a SmartCloud Application Services platform cloud, allowing for secure multi-tenancy on it and only exposing runtime, file, database, and middleware services to users instead of a whole machine that they could monkey with. Let's hope IBM remembers this, or if it doesn't remember then Big Blue doesn't get in the way of those who do know it.
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