Pure and easy: IBM’s stripped-down servers
IBM reckons its highly-integrated PureSystems architecture will radically reduce set-up times and costs. Tom Groenfeldt looks at the claims made for this simplified approach.
IBM’s highly-integrated rack-based server system, PureSystems, is claimed to reduce operational costs in large integrated enterprises like mid-tier and large banks.
It incorporates new software capability that lets firms create “patterns of expertise” that radically reduce set-up times and costs.
“A software developer, working for a bank, has an idea for a mobile application and would like to build a prototype to demonstrate its potential business benefits. Without the PureSystems cloud trial, the developer needs to obtain the necessary financing and permissions for the project. Then they need to secure and provision the hardware, download a base operating system, set up a middleware stack and enlist the expertise of skilled programmers to tune the middleware stack to ensure optimal performance. This can take days to achieve,” IBM said in its announcement.
“With the PureSystems cloud trial, the developer can log into the IBM SmartCloud and immediately begin working on the application in an environment that is already set up. They have 90 days to build a proof of concept without any risk that the hardware will be re-allocated to another priority effort, and without needing the expertise of additional software developers to tune the middleware.”
Pure also provides a way for banks to control the hardware and software, explained Ken Muckenhaupt, IBM’s systems and technology group chief technology officer for financial services.
The company said it spent $2 billion in research and development and acquisitions to achieve what it calls “expert integrated systems”. The architecture supports x86 and Power systems that can run AIX, Linux or Microsoft Windows.
With the new systems, IBM is aiming at a well-known problem – firms with a mix of legacy systems often spend 80% or more of their IT budgets, leaving little to spend on innovation. The potential gain for innovation from reducing the maintenance spend is huge, as simple arithmetic shows – a 10% reduction in maintenance to 70% allows an increase in innovation budgets from 20% to 30% – a 50% gain for the innovation budget.
Muckenhaupt cited several drivers for IBM’s investment in PureSystems. One is legacy, and not just old systems, but the legacies of mergers and acquisitions which have often left banks with two, three or four of every sort of system from HR to CRM, ALM to AML.
“In general,” said Muckenhaupt, “we see a trend toward consolidation – some of it is replacement of applications or upgrading them and some replacement is being driven by past M&A activity. Some clients are looking to control costs through consolidation.”
Even more important than costs can be the need, sometimes enhanced by regulatory demands, to consolidate systems to get information out of them easily – counterparty exposures, for example.
“Our play is basically for financial institutions or any other industry looking to consolidate and also upgrade to a scalable environment that is manageable from a single source. That manageability from a single source is a big value prop.”
IBM is working with partners, such as Temenos in core banking, that are ready to provide their applications on the PureSystem. IBM offers software iteration tools and consulting services to help firms make the transition.
John Schlesinger, chief architect at Temenos, described the IBM Pure systems, like Oracle’s Exadata and Exalogic, as “engineered systems”.
“They will enable customers for banking software to greatly simplify their technology infrastructure on premises and with private cloud and public cloud,” he said. The way IBM has packaged Pure makes the hardware significantly cheaper than buying individual components. Similarly with the software, DB2, WebSphere and MQ Series come bundled with the PureApplication system, saving users the costs of the individual licenses. In addition, IBM says it has built into Pure a huge amount of data centre expertise, system management technology that will eliminate the need for a database administrator, MQ and WebSphere experts and a tuning consultant.
Temenos developed an image of its T24 banking software for IBM Pure a year ago, Schelsinger said. “If you have the image defined, then provisioning an instance of that image is very easy. If you offer it from a data centre to users, you could have it up and running in seconds.” Temenos usually requires customisation which takes more time, but the provisioning and licensing are both vastly simplified with Pure.
Schlesinger was enthusiastic about the ability to run Windows and x86 applications on the same rack as AIX.“If you are building an infrastructure of PureFlex, you probably want the front office running on Microsoft and Intel Xeon for price/performance and the middle and back office running on AIX,” he said.
Another banking partner, Fiserv, has used PureFlex to create a low-cost bank-in-box for mid-tier customers. With it, Fiserv could use IBM iOS, Cobol and DB2 in a low-cost but high performance form factor.
“By using the Premier architecture on a PureFlex Systems appliance, clients can easily aggregate data from multiple sources and give staff and customers real time access to the information. This simplifies inter-process communication, workflows, and accelerates business processes while extending the useful life of existing software assets,” IBM said in describing the partner solution. For Fiserv, PureFlex resulted in a 36% gain in transactions per hour and lowered operating costs through 51% reduction in CPU utilisation. The PureSystems integrated storage subsystem also allows banks to improve the organisation of customer information.
Fundtech has also signed up to use PureSystems for its Global PAYplus-Services Platform which helps financial firms reduce their operating costs by consolidating payment processing into a single platform.
Muckenhaupt said that the PureSystems come in two flavours. One is a rack system, PureFlex, designed for firms that want to roll their own applications to run on X86 or Power with operating systems from Windows to AIX or Unix. The other flavour is PureApplication which comes with IBM’s DB2 database and WebSphere application server configured so users can drop applications like Temenos into a preconfigured middleware engine.
“Pure is built with integrated provisioning and virtualisation, and the IBM starter kit for cloud,” he added. “it is a very scalable rack system.” Because hardware, software, cabling and storage are all configured and formatted in the shop, IBM estimates a company can have a PureSystem up and an application running within four hours of plugging it into power and networks in a data centre.
Over time IBM will add other offerings geared to specific types of applications, but it wanted to started with environments that appeal to firms wanting to consolidate and control a mix of existing applications.
“The customer need on the business side is to rein in costs for under-utilised assets,” Muckenhaupt added. “As a result of the financial crisis, the business and financial arms have taken over and said we have to rein in costs.”
Banks have seen a reduction in revenue so they need to become more efficient. If they can replace 100 to 200 Sun servers or x86 servers with two or three Pure systems they will have lower hardware costs, less to pay in software licensing, plus savings in the real estate, power and cooling.
Not everyone in an organisation appreciates the benefits as much as the CFO might. System consolidation often runs into resistance from system management staff, although IBM tries to present consolidation as an opportunity for them to learn new skills.
“The business drive is strong enough that the IT staff can’t fight it,” added Muckenhaupt
Consolidated systems and a single dashboard also provide the flexibility banks need to meet regulatory requirements, such as Dodd Frank, many of whose details haven’t yet been defined. Pure lets a firm dynamically provision resources to provide a monthly or quarterly or daily report.
PureSystems comes in one of three new FlexSystems chassis, ready to roll onto a data centre floor and become operational in four hours. Users can specify what they want on operating systems, middleware and components. IBM then assembles the components, including an integrated network, storage and compute in a pre-optimised system with 1, 10 or 40Gb connections and mix of hard drives and solid state drives for storage, depending on customer needs. The rack is delivered fully cabled and ready to plug into power and network connections; formatting the storage arrays takes a full two days before shipping. Everything is designed to be redundant and components can be hot-swapped while the system is running. IBM has several patents on the architecture and cabling.
Management for the system is through a single interface for the whole console. It detects failure and can recover automatically. Upgrades can be performed without taking the cabling apart and reconnecting.
Jerry Cuomo, an IBM fellow and the company’s chief technology officer for WebSphere, said WebSphere includes tools to work with existing applications; the system can run an average of 98% of Oracle SQL code, for example. PureSystem also includes intelligent workload management, said Cuomo, that understands the business to know which workloads are the most important.