IBM Takes Its Own Server Consolidation Medicine
August 6, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Server maker IBM has been banging the drums about infrastructure simplification, server consolidation, and the economic benefits of the mainframe platform as a consolidation platform for so long that its arms must be tired. Someone in the hierarchy at Big Blue finally figured out that maybe the company should look at its own data centers and take a little of its own medicine. And having done that, IBM is about ready to collapse a whole bunch of RISC and X86 servers–most of them running Unix and none of them running Windows–down to a much smaller number of mainframes.
As you might imagine, the executives in IBM’s new Power Systems division, which manages the Power-based server lines as well as its AIX, Linux, and i5/OS operating systems that run on its System p and System i servers, is probably none too happy about the announcement that the System z division made this week about the porting of IBM’s real workloads, running mostly on AIX but also on other Unixes (how funny if they turn out to be SCO Unix–to mainframes running Linux.
For more than a decade now, IBM has been one of the largest installations running in the world that uses ERP software from SAP to manage its own business. (Another biggie is, of course, Hewlett-Packard.) While IBM has never been explicit about how its SAP systems are deployed, it is widely believed that its own RS/6000, pSeries, and System p boxes running AIX were deployed on the backend of the SAP systems. IBM has also used AIX-based servers to support its vast Web operations, and probably other applications.
A decade ago, as IBM was deploying its SAP applications, it also went through a massive data center consolidation, going from 155 data centers down to seven. (Much as HP is doing now.) Not counting the servers the company deploys on behalf of customers for its vast outsourcing operations, IBM has over 16,000 servers in those seven data centers, which support its 350,000 employees and myriad business partners. Including the machinery it operates on behalf of customers as well as its own machines, IBM has over 8 million square feet of data center that it manages. By its own reckoning, a 25,000-square-foot data center eats about $2.6 million a year in power, and by consolidating rack servers onto mainframes, IBM thinks it can cut power usage in half. In IBM’s case, if all of its workloads could be moved to mainframes and if that average is representative, that would mean about $416 million a year in savings per year on electricity alone.
IBM is not moving all of its workloads to the mainframe, however. But a substantial portion are making the jump, according to sources at the company. Specifically, IBM is moving workloads off of 3,900 servers to 30 of its System z mainframes at data centers in Poughkeepsie, New York; Southbury, Connecticut; Boulder, Colorado; Portsmouth, England; Osaka, Japan; and Sydney, Australia. IBM says that the specific list of applications that will be moved onto Linux partitions on the mainframes have not been finalized yet, but will include homegrown Java applications running atop its own WebSphere middleware, Domino groupware, and DB2 databases; backend databases for the SAP suite will also be moved over to Linux partitions on the mainframes. Other applications are still being analyzed for possible porting.
IBM believes that the 30 mainframes supporting these workloads will use only about a fifth of the energy of the 3,900 servers they replace. IBM says that it can save around $250 million over five years, including savings on software licenses, energy, and system administration by collapsing these 3,900 machines onto the mainframe running Linux.
Of course, IBM doesn’t have to necessarily charge itself a lot for either mainframes or Unix boxes. And if AIX 6.1 was not so late coming to market, which can in theory support 1,024 logical partitions on a Power6-based server, this story might have been written differently. IBM might have simply consolidated onto bigger System p boxes. But, that didn’t happen, and this time, the mainframe won.
Now that IBM has propped up its mainframe business by consolidating nearly 4,000 servers onto mainframes, maybe it can give the System i a little wind in its sails by consolidating maybe 5,000 or more of its X64 servers down to iSCSI-attached System x or BladeCenter servers that house their data on System i machines. If half of its IBM’s customer base uses i5/OS and OS/400 servers, what could be more important than setting this example? You can’t just eat your own filet mignon, IBM. Sometimes you have to eat meat and potatoes, and stay away from eating your own dog food. Microsoft is always talking about doing that, so do something else.