IBM Brings Windows to Mainframes

by Sean Kerner

What do you get when you cross Windows and a mainframe?

Mainframes and x86 Windows boxes have for the most part existed in two different worlds. That's now about to change, thanks to a new effort from IBM that will bring Windows into the mainframe world.

Scott Carlson, manager System z Product Marketing, explained to InternetNews.com that in 2010, IBM's zEnterprise program opened up the mainframe to go beyond traditional mainframe components with the zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX).

Carlson noted that the zBX allows for the hosting of different types of blades that can be managed as a whole system together with the mainframe. The customer benefit is that if the enterprise has multitier applications with data on the mainframe, the applications can be more closely integrated. Carlson added that the zBX also allows for central management using z System governance that mainframe clients are used to. Initially, the zBX provided support for x86 blades running Linux. Support is now being expanded to include Microsoft Windows.

"System Z is a two-frame box in its largest construct, and then what you have is a BladeCenter," Carlson said. "Think of it literally as a BladeCenter on steroids, it has more redundant power, stronger switches and robustness than our typical System Z clients expect."

Carlson explained that the zBX is a box that sits right next to the System Z and is connected directly to the mainframe. It shares a set of common communications. There is a 10 gigabit data connection and then there is a service connection, which is a 1 gigabit connection. The service connection delivers Unified Resource Management (URM) capabilities to manage between the mainframe and the attached BladeCenter. BladeCenter can have two chassis per rack and up to 14 blades per chassis.

"This architecture is the first attempt to make this capability happen where we apply the mainframe systems management constructs and governance over the top of a Windows environment," Carlson said.

Carlson noted that the 10 Gigabit switch that passes data from zBX to the mainframe provides a very secure private network that, in theory, doesn't need to have firewalls.

"There is the benefit of not having multiple hops and therefore reducing the transactional latency," Carlson said.

At the core of the zBX is virtualization powered by the open source KVM virtualization technology.

"As each of the blades are plugged in, the firmware in the URM is pushed out to the blades and the virtualization exits, the configuration gets done, and you have a working server that is kind of a plug and play scenario," Carlson said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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This article was originally published on Monday Nov 7th 2011
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