Power Systems Provisioning For Enterprise-Level Academics
November 14, 2013 Dan Burger
The IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative dishes out some serious enterprise-level computing to colleges around the world. Handling most of the load is a Power 770 box with a whole lot of partitioning and virtualization going on. Dialing up multi-tiered architectures with three operating systems (IBM i, AIX, and Linux) plus a variety of software combinations, and delivering functioning systems to hundreds of colleges with thousands of students is not a trivial achievement.
Kevin Langston is the principal architect in the Phoenix, Arizona, facility known as the Power Systems Hub. The Power 770 that handles the bulk of the workloads packs 48 processors, 45 TB of disk, 1 TB of RAM, includes a tape library for backup, and is currently pushing 160 partitions. Additional headroom is available as the system has 210 defined LPARs accessible.
“Power7 gives us the opportunity to deploy any operating system in any fashion,” Langston told IT Jungle last week. “We use i5 OS and Fibre Channel virtualization to spin off LPARs. It’s a nice management front-end for what we do. It manages the server descriptions and we can clone disks easily.”
Also in the data center are six PowerLinux 8246s, with 16 Power7 cores each, which pushes the total number of Power7 cores in excess of 200.
“We take these systems down to a 1/10th of a processor,” Langston says. “We may give a school 20 or 30 systems. And when that formula is spread over many schools, our resources can get eaten up rather quickly. We have the expertise to get very technical in applications. Some requests come in for two- and three-tiered architectures. The database, Web presentation, development, and applications may be running on different architectures. For instance, there could be a couple of AIX partitions, some Linux partitions. The database might be on i.”
Although the demand for Unix and Linux outpaces IBM i, Langston says when the schools and the team at the Power Systems Hub talk about provisioning a system, IBM i is in the discussion. There are instances, you may have heard this before, where the decision makers at the colleges are totally unaware of IBM i because their focus is 100 percent on Linux or Unix. Langston explains the importance of introducing students to an enterprise-class computer like IBM i. Students may or may not be required to learn IBM i operations, but training that includes business-class software and systems provides an educational advantage over schools that don’t teach enterprise computing. Students get handed client development tools that can be used on PCs and ported into the enterprise system, which is a post-college reality.
One example is a school that wants a PHP class. The DB2 database, along with MySQL, is a modern combination that fits what many colleges want. Langston encourages the use of Zend framework and IBM Data Studio. The users have no concern about the system it is running on. It could be IBM i, or another system. The education is what’s being emphasized. An important part of that education is understanding that although workloads may run on any platform, there are specific choices to be made based on what is appropriate for the user load. Part of the lesson plan should be you don’t pass the class until you factor in scalability.
Some schools that are new to the Academic Initiative have never had enterprise-class access before. Their experiences and their system configurations did not include this level of functionality and business-level experiences.
From his system management standpoint, Langston says it’s easier to deploy IBM i and make it successful compared to managing tiered architectures, which is the alternative.
“We make them aware of what we think the best implementation is based on their needs. We want to marry their skills with what we have the capability to offer in the way of business-class software,” he says. “The schools have the final decision though.”
The hub runs eight IBM i partitions, which the schools use as sandbox servers. A partition may serve as many as 2,000 to 3,000 user profiles.
By the way, all the IBM i partitions are set at Level 40 security. When users are in that system, they are the only ones who can see it unless they give the authority to someone else. Those parameters are put in by default. There is limited access to all command structures. It looks like a locked down business system.
“When we put people into their own i partitions, we give them their own interactive and batch,” Langston says. “Everyone comes in on the normal sign-on and then in their profile we transfer jobs into their own environment. The system looks like it’s their own system–they can’t see anybody else. We can leverage a single partition using IBM i better than any other system.”
There are courses that require a heavy use of LPARs because of the way they are written. And in case you’ve been wondering as you read this story, yes, the students have the ability to take down a system. Stuff happens. Students have to have that level of access in order to complete the course material. But as Langston notes, “We have it configured so they can only hurt themselves.”
It’s not hard to provision a system for schools that have an IBM i operations class along with RPG and CL. But more often the requests are more complex. There’s a call for additional environments rather than simple operations. Schools want WebSphere, PHP, Java applications, and ties to a back-end database.
“It takes more parts and pieces that are handed over to the schools,” Langston notes. “It’s not a monolithic system students face when they graduate and go to a business. It’s a tiered environment. Certain things are handled by certain systems because they scale well or because the application base only runs on a certain system.
“We make a point about the choice of system being made for a reason: It runs well here. Sometimes the course description may even say as much.”