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IBM Offers Processing Power as a Utility

IBM Monday took the next step on the road toward realizing its vision of computing as a utility when it drew the curtain on Linux Virtual Services, which allows customers to utilize Big Blue's computing network to access server processing, data storage and resources on a pay-as-you-use basis.

"We think this is very much a major step in the next evolution of computing," IBM spokesman Warren Hart told internetnews.com.

Utilizing zSeries mainframes located in IBM datacenters, Linux Virtual Services allow companies of all sizes to consolidate server workloads, centralize management and instantly add computing capacity as needed. Using its virtual machine operating platform, IBM said it "carves" the mainframes into virtual servers, each of which runs a copy of Linux.

By partitioning the processing, storage and network capacity for each customer, IBM said it can isolate individual demand on the system and map resources to that demand, while providing the same level of separation between customers that a physical server would. Each customer has its own operating environment, database and applications.

"IBM advances in technology now permit the virtualization of computing, networking and storage components within the data center," said Jim Corgel, general manager of e-business on demand services, IBM. "By creating a virtual, yet resilient infrastructure, customers can consolidate workloads and free themselves from the management of physical servers. With Linux Virtual Services, cutting edge technology can now be delivered in a cutting edge way -- on demand."

IBM is offering a 99.99 percent service level agreement to guarantee the service, and claims that customers can improve performance and reliability and simplify system administration through the service because complexity is significantly reduced by performing server-to-server communication internally. This, Big Blue said, cuts the number of potential points of failure.

Customers purchase processing power through Linux Virtual Services by the "service unit," which is a measure that equates to the processing power being utilized. Each service unit costs $300 per month, which includes capacity, operating systems licenses, power and floor space, and the labor and skills required to keep the service running. The service allows customers to burst up to 10 percent over each virtual server's capacity at no extra charge, allowing customers to adhere to steady-state requirements while maintaining the flexibility to cope with unscheduled surges in demand.

Additionally, Hart said adding new virtual servers is as simple as making a phone call, explaining that Big Blue chose not to enable automatic provisioning, because of the possibility that an error in coding could cause vast consumption of resources for non-productive work.

"We give you a cap on the server side, that's all you pay for," he said. "You can burst 10 percent above that for free. If you want more than that, literally it's a phone call."

Hart described a number of example scenarios. In one, a customer was running four Sun servers, which were replaced with 18 service units. He said the customer would see savings of about 45 percent on a typical monthly basis. In another scenario, a customer ran 35 Intel NT-based servers and replaced them with 95 service units. He said the customer saw a monthly savings of about 55 percent.

In addition to processing power, the service includes on-demand storage capacity, allowing customers to optimize their storage by eliminating separate, underutilized hard drives housed on physical servers or underutilized storage arrays. The service also offers network capacity and other managed services.

Hart said IBM chose Linux as the basis of the service because of the large customer demand for the platform, as well as the large base of independent software developers and ISVs offering Linux applications.

"One of the customers we have is, not surprisingly, IBM itself," Hart said. "We have literally hundreds of customers that have implemented Linux on a zSeries mainframe.

One of IBM's first customers for Linux Virtual Services is Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp. (WPS), a private non-profit health insurance company based in Madison, Wisc. WPS, one of the largest Medicare carriers in the U.S., recently consolidated e-mail, Web and directory applications from its distributed Linux servers to an IBM zSeries mainframe running Linux, and plans to have 25 servers operating on the zSeries Linux environment in the third quarter of 2002. The company's z900 mainframe collectively processes 370,000 claims each day.

"The IBM eServer and Linux will help WPS to consolidate more than two dozen Intel-based servers onto a single mainframe," said Jim Hwang, director, Enterprise Network Systems, WPS. "The introduction of Linux Virtual Services from IBM takes this capability to the next level, offering the flexibility to add computing capacity as business needs dictate. It's a significant breakthrough for customers running Linux applications who want to turn up the power at a moments notice."