IBM Z Server: Best In Class For Availability – Does Form Factor Matter?

A recent ITIC 2017 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability Survey classified the IBM Z server as delivering the highest levels of reliability/uptime, delivering ~8 Seconds or less of unplanned downtime per month.  This was the 9th consecutive year that such a statistic had been recorded for the IBM Z Mainframe platform.  This compares to ~3 Minutes of unplanned downtime per month for several other specialized server technologies, including IBM POWER, Cisco UCS and HP Integrity Superdome via the Linux Operating System.  Clearly, unplanned server downtime is undesirable and costly, impacting the bottom line of the business.  Industry Analysts state that ~80% of global business require 99.99% uptime, equating to ~52.5 Minutes downtime per year or ~8.66 Seconds per day.  In theory, only the IBM Z Mainframe platform exceeds this availability requirement, while IBM POWER, Cisco UCS and HP Integrity Superdome deliver borderline 99.99% availability capability.  The IBM Mainframe is classified as a mission-critical resource in 92 of the top 100 global banks, 23 of the top 25 USA based retailers, all 10 of the top 10 global insurance companies and 23 of the top 25 largest airlines globally…

The requirement for ever increasing amounts of corporate compute power is without doubt, satisfying the processing of ever increasing amounts of data, created from digital sources, including Cloud, Mobile and Social, requiring near real-time analytics to deliver meaningful information from these oceans of data.  Some organizations select x86 server technology to deliver this computing power requirement, either in their own Data Centre or via a 3rd party Cloud Provider.  However, with unplanned downtime characteristics that don’t meet the seeming de facto 99.99% uptime availability metric, can the growth in x86 server technology continue?  From many perspectives, Reliability, Availability & Serviceability (RAS), Data Security via Pervasive Encryption and best-in-class Performance and Scalability, you might think that the IBM Z Mainframe would be the platform of choice?  For whatever reason, this is not always the case!  Maybe we need to look at recent developments and trends in the compute power delivery market and second guess what might happen in the future…

Significant Cloud providers deliver vast amounts of computing power and associated resources, evolving their business models accordingly.  Such business models have many challenges, primarily uptime and data security related, convincing their prospective customers to migrate their workloads from traditional internal Data Centres, into these massive rack provisioned infrastructures.  Recently Google has evolved from using Intel as its primary supplier for Data Centre CPU chips, including CPU chips from IBM and other semiconductor rivals.

In April 2016, Google declared it had ported its online services to the IBM POWER CPU chip and that its toolchain could output code for Intel x86, IBM POWER and 64-bit ARM cores at the flip of a command-line switch.  As part of the OpenPOWER and Open Compute Project (OCP) initiatives, Google, IBM and Rackspace are collaborating to develop an open server specification based on the IBM POWER9 architecture.  The OCP Rack & Power Project will dictate the size and shape or form factor for housing these industry standard rack infrastructures.  What does this mean for the IBM Z server form factor?

Traditionally and over the last decade or more, IBM has utilized the 24 Inch rack form factor for the IBM Z Mainframe and Enterprise Class POWER Systems.  Of course, this is a different form factor to the industry standard 19 Inch rack, which finally became the de facto standard for the ubiquitous blade server.  Unfortunately there was no tangible standard for a 19 Inch rack, generating power, cooling and other issues.  Hence the evolution of the OCP Rack & Power Standard, codenamed Open Rack.  Google and Facebook have recently collaborated to evolve the Open Rack Standard V2.0, based upon an external 21 Inch rack Form factor, accommodating the de facto 19 Inch rack mounted equipment.

How do these recent developments influence the IBM Z platform?  If you’re the ubiquitous global CIO, knowing your organizations requires 99.99%+ uptime, delivering continuous business application change via DevOps, safeguarding corporate data with intelligent and system wide encryption, perhaps you still view the IBM Z Mainframe as a proprietary server with its own form factor?

As IBM have already demonstrated with their OpenPOWER offering, collaborating with Google and Rackspace, their 24 Inch rack approach can be evolved, becoming just another CPU chip in a Cloud (E.g. IaaS, Paas) service provider environment.  Maybe the final evolution step for the IBM Z Mainframe is evolving its form factor to a ubiquitous 19 Inch rack format?  The intelligent and clearly defined approach of the Open Rack Standard makes sense and if IBM could deliver an IBM Z Server in such a format, it just becomes another CPU chip in the ubiquitous Cloud (E.g. IaaS, Paas) service provider environment.  This might be the final piece of the jigsaw for today’s CIO as their approach to procuring compute power might be based solely upon the uptime and data security metrics.  For those organizations requiring in excess of 99.99% uptime and fully compliant security, there only seems to be one choice, the IBM Z Mainframe CPU chip technology, which has been running Linux workloads since 2000!