Solaris is coming, Solaris is System z

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Solaris is coming, Solaris is System z

Wow....I felt the earth shake just now....IBM and Sun have announced a live demo of Solaris on System z. Experts at Sine Nomine – the same folks who were at the epicenter of the Linux on the mainframe movement – have brought the two companies together and showcased the possibilities at this week’s Gartner conference in Las Vegas. 

Click here to see David Boyes from Sine Nomine discuss the project from the Gartner event floor. 

Amazing. But why are they doing this? To make customers’ lives easier. One question I hear all the time is: Is IBM trying to take over all computers? Does IBM believe that a mainframe or a collection of mainframes can replace all the servers in a business? The answer to that is simple: NO. 

How do I know that? Because an IBM mainframe can never be the sole computer in any business and the reason is, it doesn't have it's own front end interface....well, maybe it does....the punch card and the 3270 terminal. But they really didn't take off the way IBM anticipated, so now you have ATM's, Kiosks, Web browsers, cell phones, pda’s, PC's with 3270 emulators....a cornucopia of front end devices as the human computer interface. In that regard, IBM's mainframe has to work as a master collaborator to make sure that it can interoperate with that wide range of front end processors and as such, has had to augment the 3270 data stream with slick new XML and web services built into it's systems.....but I digress....we are talking about Solaris on the this to be a demonstration system, a proof of concept, or an actual supported system? 

It’s a demo today, but it's intended to be a supported system – and it’s only a matter of time before we see it. We've learned already that customers may desire open source computing on z/OS, zVM and Linux for System z. They just aren't willing to service it themselves. Sure, they can download a myriad of tools from the internet, but they can't download a service contract. So they look toward distributors or vendors to provide service for those offerings before they'll put them into production. The same will be true of Solaris on System z. 

On this lovely mainframe, we also realize that code development is generally created on the x86 platform and as such, typically favors native operating systems as the deployment platform as well. Those platforms are predominantly Windows, Linux and Solaris-based. But because of openness and portability, Solaris and Linux can be deployed on multiple hardware platforms now. Today, deployment of servers on the x86 platform has been considered Scale Out computing....just keep adding more and more server images, each dedicated to a single operating system and typically a single application or data base server. In many respects, these servers have the appearance of an appliance, because they are "single" function devices. Those servers might satisfy the needs of a lot of folks (e.g. clients), but typically excel at a single function. 

In the last couple of years, it seems like the next new thing is Virtualization and server consolidation...the ability to host multiples of these "appliances" in a single container and, in doing so, make the operational environment more green - use less energy, cooling, floor space, etc, but still meet businesses' service level agreements. Well, you'd think that virtualization just got invented. Nope - it's been around for over 40 years, with IBM's zVM as the cream of the crop in systems virtualization. We've already learned the power of virtualization when associated with Linux for System z. There have been a large number of deployments and over 90% of those deployments are on zVM. With Solaris on System z, 100% of the deployments will be on zVM. That's because the operational environment will take advantage of some of the native System z resource sharing and management tooling, in addition to offering the opportunity to manage each Solaris image independently. 

The virtualization available on System z through zVM has a number of distinct advantages over the Johnny-come-lately virtual servers on other platforms - the ability to run at 90% and higher system utilization without fear of failover for a very large number of operating system images; the ability to add or remove capacity on System z by turning on or off additional processors without suffering a service disruption and in doing so, meet tactical business processing needs on demand; the ability to leverage hardware and system memory to communicate between operating system images, which in turn reduces the number of system intrusion points; the compartmentalization of one operating system image from another one to provide an additional layer of security; the ability to use zVM services across Solaris system images for common auditing, disk and tape back up processing. 

The net of this is, it's the same code that you might be running on a different hardware architecture, but when executed within the zVM hypervisor, inherits much of the operational superiority from that environment, with no significant additional cost. And then there is the hardware benefits of the System z had an OnStar like call home capability and autonomic healing capability long before the blue prints were written by GM or other server platforms. IBM's mainframe remote support facility provides electronic diagnosis of system failures and with redundant hardware built in, can switch over to the backup components and in parallel "call home" to dispatch a customer engineer to correct the problem. In the case of CPU failure, the z architecture will swap in a processor, transparent to any operating system running on its hardware to continue processing unabated. It's like changing the tire while the cars in motion and calling ahead to have a new spare put in the trunk, again without having the car stop. 

Let's continue that automotive metaphor. The mainframe is intended to be a super highway. There are folks that believe it's just a parkway...allows only cars and it's not heavily traveled. Today's announcement is just another occasion to demonstrate the super highway nature of the mainframe. It enables all kinds of vehicles to travel on its roads and the traffic is moving along very quickly. In fact, there are sensors in this mainframe highway to detect bottlenecks and provide re-balancing workloads to meet service goals, another value that Solaris on System z will be able to take advantage of as well. But let's not forget, the interstate highways are selective, they don't accept bicycles and pedestrians. There are other roads, running at a slower pace for those folks to travel on. Yes, they'll reach the same destinations, but it will take them a bit longer to get there. So in that sense, the mainframe is not going to "take over Solaris". There will be certain application and data serving workloads that will more naturally appeal to a consolidated effort on a mainframe and there will be other workloads that can continue to run independently on other server hardware or for that matter be virtualized in an x86 environment, quite possibly because they are stateless and don't need the resilience, security and capacity management that a mainframe brings to the operational environment. 

Linux on System z has been wildly successful in its ability to consolidate workloads. Does Solaris present a "weakness" in the force driving Linux ubiquity? No, quite the contrary. It's about flexibility and choice. In many cases today, Linux is evolving as a server of choice in the x86 world and collections of those servers can be easily consolidated to IBM mainframes running Linux. But in some cases, a UNIX workload, like Solaris, must first be ported over to Linux before it can take advantage of the virtualization and scaling capabilities of the mainframe. In addition, some operational tooling is different, so there might be a skills hit or a procedural hit to make a change. Well, just as Linux is Linux, regardless of where it's deployed, the same objective holds true for Solaris. Common code is a re-compile vs a port and the objective is to enable the same operations model, but offer some new capabilities, through zVM, that further reduce the operational complexity of running many, many Solaris images on the same mainframe. 

So back to the celebration....there's a new choice coming to town, Solaris on z. The benefits of the Solaris operating system as many businesses have grown to enjoy on other architectures, with the benefits of the operations model and virtualization capabilities of IBM's System z mainframe and zVM. Long may they both prosper to give businesses the choices and flexibility they need to build global system deployments that meet their business governance, privacy, security and resilience needs in solving problems along with the myriad of other options available for them to deploy on this modern mainframe.

by JimPorell November 28, 2007 in Future


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Why run Solaris, when a "modern" unix is still available for system z?

Posted by: Dr.T | Nov 29, 2007 6:22:35 PM


You should know better. It is z/VM® not zVM!

Linux on System z has now been available for nearly 8 years (well is was Linux on S/390 back then) and it took several of those years until we had a critical mass of software available. Today the primary usage of Linux on System z is with commercial software such as IBM WebSphere and Oracle DB. The future success of Solaris on System z will be very dependent on the availability of such commercial software. It remains to be seen if this will happen and how long it will take.

Posted by: Jim Elliott | Nov 30, 2007 5:44:16 PM

I've said it before ( ), and I'll say it again... Yes, System Z's virtualization technology is AWESOME, but if it's really all it's cracked up to be cost wise, where are the hosting providers selling it? If it's so good, you'd think just two hosting providers buying a good size Z box and having a price war would put most of these folks with their vmware and xen farms on Intel hardware out of business in a quarter. But where is even ONE hosting provider selling Linux on z/VM? I can find dozens offering Intel in a heartbeat.

Posted by: cabbey | Dec 5, 2007 1:50:43 AM

Very informative. Thank you for the information, it's much apreciated!

Posted by: C-Tec 800 Series Call System | May 14, 2010 10:52:25 AM

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