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IBM PureSystems – A Bit Of Cloud For Mainframes?

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

IBM PureSystems are a quiet revolution, says IBM’s Tikiri Wanduragala

Six months ago, IBM launched PureSystems, new-wave mainframes which combine RISC and Intel servers and promise a new and simpler way to develop enterprise applications. But since that initial fanfare,we have heard almost nothing about the supposedly revolutionary servers.

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening, though, says IBM senior server consultant IBM Tikiri Wanduragala. He grabbed  TechWeekEurope last month, to tell us that PureSystems is a response to commodity cloud computing. It might take time to mature, but it is on track. The meeting took place in the run-up to the announcement of  new PureSystems tailored for Big Data analytics.

A radical change?

Tikiri-Wanduragala-IBM-PureSystems

“PureSystems is a radical cheapening and simplification of what we have traditionally called mainframes,” said Wandaragula. By uniting the IBM server ranges in one box, it can reduce energy and simplify management.
But the software side is far more important. Wandaragala pitches it as the arrival of “cloud-style” methods in the old and ultra-traditional world of mainframes. If he’s right, then PureSystems could preserve mainframes against a seemingly inexorable move away from older styles of computing.

“We are seeing a trend in the industry going from consolidated silos to the cloud,” he said. “But the reality  is that most people just use bits of all of this – and we use the cloud more in our private life than anywhere else.”

The cloud offers more integrated working, and faster development, but mainframes are a different form of computing, and these servers are IBM’s bid to reshape the cloud enough to fit it there. “You need to get  from idea to application as fast as possible, because all the time you are developing it  costs money.” Executives can see that things get done quickly on the public Internet, he said, and “people are asking why we can’t do that on our own systems.”

The Pure idea amalgamates hardware into a “standard block”, he said. PureFlex takes that and adds a management layer on it so people can develop systems., and run easy in-house clouds.

Above that, PureApplication takes the PureFlex platform and adds middleware layers, to make it “like an appliance,” he said – albeit one which can be upgraded and won’t have obsolescence built in. “The biggest problem of an appliance is it can date very quickly,” said Wanduragala. “Breaking it down in this fashion lets us  have an appliance which can regenerate itself as the technology evolves.”

Breaking the patterns?

The real value though, will be in the “patterns” which IBM wants developed, to deliver standard functionality, or specialist applications. “These can be shared across the industry or kept like the Crown Jewels,” he says. They encapsulate the logic of an application, and can be placed in an IBM enterprise App Store.

The App Store will fulfill a number of roles, said Wanduragala: “You will see patterns which are generic, and patterns which are developed by ISVs, contianing their intellectual property, as well as patterns developed by customers which will never see the light of day anywhere outside that company.”  For confidential apps, IBM offers a private space, so the developer can use the Store to share that app only with their own organisation: “If you write a pattern for your industry, you can keep the part you want private on your own site.”

It all sounds great, but – despite the announcement of another PureSystem, designed specifically for Big Data – there is still little concrete to get hold of.

There are no public “patterns” to look at – though Wanduragala tells me there are 600 companies developing them – and no public customers, except for US-based Premier, a  healthcare group handling 2,700 hospitals, who are using a PureData System to analyse a large  database of clinical and financial data, who put their name on the press announcement about the analytics system.

Patterns are what distinguishes PureSystems from other appliance products such as HP’s “cloud in a box“, said Wanduragala. Although solutions like VMware’s Vblocks allow more freedom to mix and match hardware, he thinks PureSystems can compete on a “chip-for-chip” level, and IBM can integrate other vendors’ hardware too, if required: “Getting it all from one source, is a strength but it can be a weakness, that’s why we offer it unbundled.”

Virtualisation without commoditisation?

In the end, PureSystems is a response to the commoditisation of hardware, and of software in the cloud. Although cheap hardware seems to do everything, and cloud-based systems allow systems which are fast and responsive, IBM thinks there’s still a place for mainframes – if only they can be made as responsive and quick to develop for as the cloud.

PureSystems is never going to sell to the cloud giants, to Google or Facebook, but it might keep a place for mainframes in the mix, for those companies already committed to that sort of server.

“Some users might throw stuff over the fence into the public cloud, but PureSystems has a big element of allowing those things inside the company,” said Wanduragala. Rather than leap the privacy and security hurdles he sees between in-house servers and the cloud, he thinks the IBM servers will allow enough flexibility for many organisations to keep applications in house.

Will it work? Time will tell – and it can only be a matter of months before server sales figures start to reveal whether it is happening or not.

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