the five characteristics
of a private cloud:
1. SCALABLE: High levels of utilization (e.g., through virtualization), with
large, mature data centers.
2. ACCESSIBLE: users can provision
resources on their own.
3. ELASTIC: Appearance of infinite
capacity on demand.
4. SHARED: Workloads are
multiplexed; capacity is pooled.
5. METERED CONSUMPTION: Ability
to pay for use with no commitment.
Source: corporAte executive BoArd’S
infrAStructure executive council,
actually using it, says Bill Claybrook, president of
New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass. “If
they are not automating things, if they don’t have a
self-service portal, then it’s not a cloud architecture;
it’s just a virtualized environment,” he says.
One reason why it’s hard to find a self-provisioned
mainframe-based cloud may be because we’re still in
the early days of cloud computing. “There is incongruity between what’s out there in cloud today and
what these big mainframes do,” says Phil Murphy, an
analyst at Forrester Research.
Business units might use a credit card to buy
some extra compute cycles for a one-time project, for
example, but most companies wouldn’t run mission-critical transaction-processing applications in the cloud.
The one cloud scenario that includes self-provisioning
is the model used by global outsourcing companies,
where far-flung developers have the ability to automatically set up their own testing and development platforms. Those aren’t all mainframe-based, but Murphy
thinks some of them must be.
Mullen agrees that the offshoring model is a good
example. A platform-as-a-service setup like that “is
perhaps the dominant usage of a cloud infrastructure
in mainframe environments today,” he says.
But as cloud computing matures and as new
models of mainframes begin to offer more comput-
ing power at lower costs than they do today, more
companies will experiment with the mainframe-based cloud. Hurwitz, for one, says many of her
clients are looking into it, although none are ready
to talk about it publicly. “It’s something we’re
going to see a lot more of,” she predicts.
the Very early Adopter
Marist College is a poster child for IBM mainframes. The college is right down the road from
an IBM mainframe manufacturing plant in
Poughkeepsie, N. Y. Marist has had a research-and-development partnership with IBM for more
than 20 years, and it helped IBM develop and roll
out System z Linux.
Marist has rewritten many x86-based applications to run on Linux on its two System z mainframes. The college runs 80 Linux servers, mostly
handling administrative tasks, on one mainframe,
and it has more than 600 Linux servers running
academic applications on the other.
The college runs other applications on an IBM
System p midrange computer and IBM blades as
well. But the mainframes are “the real engine,”
says Bill Thirsk, Marist’s CIO.
Marist is getting big cost benefits from vir-
tualizing on the mainframe. The college avoids
purchasing extra server hardware, plus it saves
on space, power and IT staff to manage the data
center. It not only avoids having to pay extra for
each application it adds to the mainframe, but
also benefits from increased utilization of the
mainframe, resulting in a very good return on assets,
says Thirsk. He calls Marist’s setup a cloud.
Skeptics would say it’s not a cloud, because it has
no user provisioning. But there is some provisioning
going on: When students enroll to study computer
science, for example, they are automatically provi-
sioned with a mainframe partition, Thirsk says. And
when they leave the school, he adds, “that’s sucked
back into the fold and re-allocated automatically.”
Though critics might disagree, Thirsk says the lack
of user provisioning isn’t important.
“The fact is that if you wanted to change the policy
[to] where the student could just order it, it would
come down to the same auto-provisioning routine,”
he says. “We do it more explicitly because it’s an aca-
demic institution. The faculty decide what resources
get used by students, depending on their courses.”
Marist has advantages that make building a
mainframe-based cloud easier. It gets an academic
discount on the mainframes, although the price
breaks aren’t any larger than those available to other
universities, says Thirsk. And thanks to an IBM-spon-
sored mainframe academic program at the college,
Marist has a built-in, cheap source of IT labor with
mainframe and System z Linux skills.
“Where one CIO might have to hire very expensive
professionals to run their data center, I have an entire