IBM Rejiggers and Broadens i5 Capacity BackUp Edition
August 14, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Just a little over three years ago, when IBM was rolling out the final phases of its first-generation of Power5-based “Squadron” servers, the company began talking about two new kinds of OS/400 servers. Both machines, the Capacity BackUp (CBU) Edition and High Availability (HA) Edition sought to offer standardized iSeries platforms with built-in low prices for customers who wanted to do high availability clustering and offsite disaster recovery. Last week, after much input from customers, IBM substantially changed how it packages and sells the CBU Edition.
As readers of this newsletter already know, IBM actually started rejiggering the CBU line-up on July 11, when it launched two new CBU boxes. With last week’s announcement, IBM is making the CBU configurations more flexible making it possible for customers to activate capacity on these machines to do useful work. This has not been possible in the past, since the CBU machine was a designated backup hitter for a production iSeries or i5 server that is taken out by a disaster. Not by an administrative disaster–like a long batch job or backup window–but a real disaster, like a fire, flood, tornado, or blackout that takes out a machine.
While IBM has launched three generations of hardware and operating systems since the iSeries for Capacity BackUp 825, 870, or 890 servers were launched in September 2003, the basic approach has not changed. A CBU box comes with a set number of base processors activated and it is intended to be stored offsite. Data from the production machine back in the data center is replicated to this remote machine using tools from DataMirror, iTera, Lakeview Technology, Maximum Availability, Trader’s, and Vision Solutions. The CBU box runs a stripped-down version of i5/OS or OS/400 Enterprise Edition (depending on the vintage of the machine), and this CBU Edition of the software includes full 5250 processing capability. The CBU box cannot be used for anything other than replicating data and applications and then activating itself to run those applications when a production machine is wiped out by a natural disaster, and the formal definition of that, according to IBM, is a natural disaster that causes an outage of more than four hours that is not the result of normal hardware or software failures. In the original CBU boxes, the processors in the server could not be permanently activated. A CBU customer who needed more processing capacity than was in the base CBU box–which is typically the case, I presume, since only a fraction of the processors in the box were activated–had to turn on more capacity on a temporary basis during disasters and then pay IBM anywhere from $1,100 to $1,300 a day to rent them.
By contrast, the HA Editions were designed for high availability clustering within a data center. Such HA clusters protect against outages related to planned downtime (during upgrades and data archiving, for instance) and for unplanned outages (usually caused by software crashes or human error). Like the CBU Editions, the HA Editions were based on i5/OS or OS/400 Enterprise Edition, and they have full 5250 support.
For years prior to the advent of the CBU and HA Editions, IBM and its high availability software partners announced special discounts and rebates to stimulate demand. The CBU and HA Edition machines in essence made these discounts a part of the product line, which means sales reps did not have to negotiate deep discounts to drive a HA sale. This should have, in theory, helped make it easier to sell high availability and disaster recovery solutions on the iSeries and i5 platform.
Every product line can always use some improvement, and according to George Gaylord, who is the enterprise product manager for the System i line, i5/OS and OS/400 shops have been giving the HA partners and IBM some advice about how to make the CBU offering better and more flexible. And, to its credit, IBM is listening, and last week, it made some pretty substantial changes based on that feedback. “While customers like the idea that they can have a disaster recovery setup, they don’t always want to duplicate their production machines because of their budgets, and they would love to use such machines for development or another production use,” Gaylord explains. The changes IBM has made address these and other concerns.
The first big change is that any CBU box can have processors permanently activated on it, and customers can put i5/OS, AIX, or Linux workloads on those processors. So, for instance, now you can get a CBU box and leave just enough processing capacity on it to support the data replication software, and then activate other processors so they can run other work. In the event of a disaster, when the production machine is knocked offline, you can boot off the extra workloads running on the CBU–for instance, application development–and use the activated processors to run workloads that used to be on the production i5 box. You can also temporarily move licenses for i5/OS and related systems and application programs from the production box to the CBU box and run them on either permanently or temporarily activated processors on the machine. The key thing here is that the license can only be live on one machine, and on the appropriate number of processor cores, at one time.
Another big change is that the CBU boxes can now back up i5/OS Standard Edition machines as well as i5/OS Enterprise Edition machines. In the past, you could only pair a CBU with an iSeries or i5 running i5/OS Enterprise Edition. But with the advent of WebFacing and other solutions that have been used to modernize legacy green-screen applications, many customers who might have had to acquire an i5 Enterprise Edition setup can now move to the considerably less costly i5 Standard Edition boxes. Suffice to say that such customers want to be able to have disaster recovery, too. If you have a Standard Edition box, you buy a CBU Standard Edition; if you have an Enterprise Edition production machine, you buy a regular CBU Edition.
The other change in the CBU line is that the offering is a lot broader. On July 11, IBM introduced two new CBU models, based on the i5 570 (with two base processors expandable to 595 machines), and last week, Big Blue added a CBU box based on the two-socket i5 550 server as well as adding a skinnier i5 595 and two skinnier i5 570 models, bringing the total number of CBU machines to six. All of these machines are available running i5/OS Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition, and they have different levels of activations and 5250 Enterprise Enablements. (I have put all the salient characteristic data for the revamped CBU line together in a summary table, including pricing.)
According to Steve Finnes, business resiliency manager for the System i line, the design point for pricing on the CBU Edition is to deliver a base server that is from 30 to 50 percent less costly than buying a plain-vanilla Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition box. That comparison is based on the bare chassis, not machines configured with memory and disk, which cost the same on all i5 boxes except for the JDE Solution Edition, which has disk drives at half list price.
Now that customers can activate processing capacity on the CBU Editions, you may be wondering why anyone would want an HA Edition machine. Well, for one thing, some customers cluster for HA locally and then have an offsite disaster recovery box. The big casinos as well as financial institutions that rely on the OS/400 and i5/OS platform (as if a casino wasn’t a financial institution) typically have these kinds of aggressive availability setups. IBM intends to sell both the HA Edition and CBU Edition machines. “We will continue to sell HA Editions,” Gaylord says. But with the ability to start with a CBU box and build it up, you might be thinking that the days of the HA Edition are possibly numbered. You would be thinking correctly.
“Customers were starting with the HA Edition wanted less CPU power. Which is why our new approach is to build up from the CBU Edition, not move down from the HA Edition. The CBU Edition will provide substantial value to customers, and our intent is to phase out the HA Edition over time and focus on the CBU Edition,” Gaylord says. For some customers, like those using i5 520 entry boxes, where a CBU Edition is not currently offered and may not be practical, IBM will very likely continue to offer something like an HA Edition. IBM is being coy about its exact plans, of course.
But IBM does think that high availability, in its many forms, is still a big driver for the System i5 platform in terms of sales. “In the first and second quarter, sales related to high availability and disaster recovery came in ahead of forecast,” explains Finnes, who was not at liberty to put any numbers on that statement. Disasters as well as increasing regulation of systems through compliance laws in the United States and Europe are forcing customers to rethink their monolithic systems approach–even on the ruggedly secure OS/400 platform. “We are seeing a lot more growth at the low end of the market these days,” says Finnes. “The old back from tape strategy, I think, is going to go away, simply because I believe that lost data cannot, by definition, be considered secure data. If your recovery methods are based on tape backups, then you might lose 12 or more hours of data because of an outage. This is not security.”
The change in the CBU Edition is aimed at getting customers to move from disaster recovery toward high availability, something that IBM, its customers, and the HA partners are all keen on. “One thing is clear about HA–you either need it or you don’t.” Gaylord says. “But, I believe that HA is becoming a core requirement. Sometimes customers want disaster recovery to start, and then they can see themselves moving toward high availability maybe one, two, or three years down the road. And when high availability becomes a priority, then they want to be able to take just one step to get there.” Starting with a CBU Edition and then activating the processors as you move toward high availability is, in this sense, a much smoother path.
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