IBM LinuxONE; what’s in a name?

So the new IBM LinuxONE has now been officially launched. And not to put too fine a point on it, the Lustratus opinion is that it is pretty much the best Linux server around. In fact, to really stiEmperor_300x230ck my neck out, the LinuxONE could become the premier Linux server of choice in the next 5 years. As long as IBM doesn’t trip over its own feet to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory…

Let’s just take a moment to reflect on what IBM’s got. The LinuxONE currently comes in two sizes, the full-scale enterprise Linux server (Emperor) and an entry level server (Rockhopper). Cunning use of penguins to stress the link to Linux ūüėČ . LinuxONE offers a range (if two is a range) of Linux servers with outstanding reliability, security and non-disruptive scalability coupled with probably the best data and transaction handling facilities in the world. Bold words, but there is proof (see later).

But the LinuxONE also offers the openness and productivity support expected in the Linux world. Customers can choose between Red Hat, SuSE and Ubuntu environments, a range of hypervisors such as KVM and PR/SM, familiar languages such as Python, Perl, Ruby, Rails and Node.js, various databases like Oracle, DB2, MongoDB, MariaDB. In addition, LinuxONE adopts open technologies extensively, including Openstack, Docker, Chef and Puppet.  Even the financiang for the LinuxONE is more aligned with Linux and Cloud expectations, with a usage-based fixed monthly charge or even a rental option being offered. The LinuxONE is even the basis of an IBM community cloud being rolled out now.

So how can anything go wrong? And anyway, how can I make those claims about reliability, security and so on? Well of course, the secret is that the IBM LinuxONE is based on the IBM mainframe, arguably the most proven server the world has ever known for reliability, availability, data and I/O handling, transaction processing and enterprise serving. To this base, IBM has been able to build on its extensive experience over the last few years of running Linux workloads and serving Linux needs with z/Linux, providing the ideal launchpad for delivering the ultimate Linux servers. Fortunately IBM has not tried to resist the march of open technologies, taking the opportunity to bring open, non-IBM and IBM offerings together with the aim of delivering the premier Linux server environment.

The ‘but’ is that IBM cannot manage to tear itself away from its pride in the mainframe. Rightly, IBM is very proud of its mainframe technology and its long history of success under the most demanding environments. Perfectly understandable. And so I suppose it is only natural that IBM would want to refer in all its marketing literature to the fact that the LinuxONE is an enterprise Linux mainframe, and to stress that it IS a mainframe, albeit with significant Linux and open technology support added. But from the outside, this makes no sense. let’s split the world up into three camps; mainframe fans, those who do not know about mainframes and the mainframe ‘haters’. Perhaps ‘haters’ is a bit strong, but there is absolutely no doubt that there are a significant number of companies across the world who for various reasons see ‘mainframe’ as almost a derogatory word; old-fashioned, expensive, etc.. So how will the three markets react to the LinuxONE? IBM mainframe fans don’t need to be told it is a mainframe; they know, and they will also usually have an IBM rep who will be pointing it out with great frequency! The uninitiated who know nothing of mainframes would not see any plus or minus from being told the LinuxONE is a mainframe; they will simply want to look at what the LinuxONE can do for them, what tools and environments it supports etc.. But the third category can only see the ‘mainframe’ word as negative.

I can almost hear some people pointing out that this is a silly argument. That anyone who starts to look at the LinuxONE and who knows anything will quickly work out it is essentially an IBM mainframe. But I would submit that is not the point. Reaction to the mainframe word is to put the third group off from taking a closer look. Once they do look, as long as the server has the tools and offers the capabilities they need, and they can carry it forwards in their company without overtly exposing the ‘mainframe’ word, the strength of the LinuxONE offering will carry it through.

So I make this plea to IBM. Please, please, remove ‘mainframe’ from all the literature. Replace it with ‘server’ or ‘Linux server’ or enterprise Linux server’ or whatever. LinuxONE should be associated with being the best, most reliable, most productive, most scalable, most effective and safest range of Linux servers in the world, not with being a Linux-enabled mainframe.

Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly rememberehttp://zagg-blog.s3.amazonaws.com/community/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12581.jpgd! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Why did IBM produce the MQ Appliance?

MQappliance

So IBM has delivered an MQ Appliance (the IBM MQ Appliance M2000 to give it its handy IBM name). For the uninitiated, this is MQ in a box (literally!). But why? Obviously, appliances often appeal from a security point of view, since they are often tamper-evident and anyway pretty hard to hack if they are physically locked up. But MQ is all about delivering messages; OK, the messages in the queues might have value, but they are probably encrypted anyway if they are sensitive. Now a security gateway, well sure an appliance makes sense. Stop all those undesirables coming into your enterprise with a secure box. But MQ?

Turns out there are some pretty damn convincing reasons why numerous companies are going to be very interested in the MQ Appliance. Think about MQ and where/how it is used. MQ usage is pretty much pervasive in most large companies, often providing the enterprise backbone for all application to application communications. It offers assured once-only delivery and is particularly good at dealing with hostile networks where connectivity is sporadic. Messages are simply queued and then delivered when the connection is available. As a result, it is often the most attractive way to communicate between applications all the way out to the fringes of the enterprise. When dealing with countries that have limited communications infrastructure the asynchronous nature of MQ makes it an ideal communications mechanism. However there is a drawback; often these sorts of locations are also the ones with the fewest available IT skills locally. Setting up MQ queue managers and queues is not a trivial operation.

But it is now! Instead of having a software stack that needs to be installed, companies can simply deliver the MQ Appliance to all their key locations. The recipients plug it in, turn it on and then specialists can configure it remotely. It is now ready to run; no wait, no messing, no opportunity for accidents, no need for expensive maintenance and support resources, just start messaging straight away. Maintenance is quick and easy and can be handled by a single team; each box is consistent and maintenance is applied as a single firmware upgrade to all devices. In terms of capacity, the MQ Appliance has a pretty vast RAID array for holding the messages in queues until they have been delivered, and if availability is critical then by simply having two MQ Appliances and three cables between them you instantly have duplex queues ensuring that any hardware failure does not cause an outage.

Having a uniform appliance for all the major MQ nodes also ensures that there is consistency in terms of configuration and operations. This makes results predictable and speeds up problem determination if there are any application or usage issues. Seems to me that just about any enterprise that has adopted MQ as its messaging backbone will be interested in the MQ Appliance.

And the best bit? It has to be that cool ‘MQ Appliance’ label just under the display!

IBM reinforces its Appliance strategy with acquisition of Netezza

When IBM ¬†acquired DataPower’s range of appliances in 2005, it caused some raised eyebrows; was IBM really serious about getting into the appliances game?. Subsequently the silence from IBM was deafening, and ¬†people were starting to wonder whether IBM’s foray into the appliances market had fizzled out. However 2010 has been the year when IBM has made its strategic intent around appliances abundantly clear.

First it acquired Cast Iron, the leading provider of appliances for use in Cloud Computing, and now it is buying Netezza, one of the top suppliers of data warehouse appliances. Netezza has built up an impressive market presence in a very short time, dramatically accelerating time to value for data analytics and business intelligence applications. In addition, it has continued to extend its DataPower range, with the addition of a caching appliance and the particularly interesting ‘ESB-in-a-box’ integration appliance in a blade form factor. For any doubters, IBM has clearly stated its intentions of making appliances a key element of its strategic business plans.

This just leaves the question of why. Of course the cynical answer is because IBM must see itself making a lot of money from appliances, but behind this is the fact that this must indicate that appliances are doing something really useful for users. The interesting thing is that the key benefits are not necessarily the ones you might expect. In the early days of appliances such as firewalls and internet gateways, one key benefit was the security of a hardened device, particularly outside the firewall.  The other was commonly performance, with the ability in an appliance to customize hardware and software to deliver a single piece of functionality, for example in low-latency messaging appliances. But the most common driver for appliances today is much broader Рappliances reduce complexity. An appliance typically comes preloaded, and can replace numer0us different instances of code running in several machines. You bring in an appliance, cable it up and turn it on. It offers a level of uniformity. In short, it makes operations simpler and therefore cheaper to manage and less susceptible to human error.

Perhaps it is this simplicity argument and its harmonization with current user needs that is the REAL driving force behind IBM’s strategic interest in Appliances.

Was Visions Solutions right to acquire Double-Take?


vision1
On May 17th Vision Solutions announced that it was acquiring Double-Take – bringing together its own IBM Power HA/Disaster Recovery business and Double-Take’s strength in the same market with Windows and to a lesser extent Linux. But did it do the right thing?

On the face of it, this was a natural move for Vision. Its strength was in providing availability solutions based on IBM’s 64-bit Power servers. This market is a strong and inflential market, but is nowhere near the size of the Windows market. Also, since there are few players in the more specialist IBM Power market, Vision already holds a reasonable share. For growth, it was essential for Vision to do something. It had choices – it was already partnering with Double-Take to supply Windows to its IBM base, and had other partners for Linux. But by choosing to acquire Double-Take, it is definitely buying a Windows availability provider who also does Linux rather than the other way around.

My concern is that my instincts tell me the Linux market is going to be much more interested in availability than the Windows one. UNIX in general is a more secure and robust operating system than Windows, and therefore people using Linux may have greater expectations of availability, provided through file mirrors, backups, network switchovers and disaster recovery scenarios. In contrast, any user of Windows knows that the system is always going to have its availability problems – just think how many times you have to reboot when you use your own Windows laptop or desktop. The question is therefore; how strong and widespread is the demand for availability on Windows?

At some level, there is demand. For example, a lot of people would like their office data backed up so the can get it back quickly if there is a problem. But beyond this basic data level, it seems to me demand may be limited. Indeed, this seems to be backed up by the fact that in the past year or so Double-Take has suffered slowing growth and market pressures on its finances. Maybe Vision would have been wiser to acquire a Linux availability provider, like SteelEye Software for instance.

CICS and PHP – DON’T PANIC

OK, so when IBM briefed me a few weeks ago on the new announcement about PHP support for CICS, I almost fell off my chair. IBM asked me what I thought and I said I was horrified…taking something as reliable and trustworthy as CICS and throwing it into the wild, unkempt PHP world just left me filled with dread. But on hearing more, my concerns were largely put to rest, and my message to others with the same initial reaction as me is ‘Don’t Panic’.

The initial description to me was ‘adding PHP support for CICS transactions’. Now I am not so old that I do not understand the power of PHP, and its ability to quickly generate nice, modern interfaces for websites and the like. But my own experience of PHP is playing games on the Internet (“Sorry the server has crashed, the damn PHP code has gone pear-shaped again”)¬† and messing about building pages and making a mess of them. I therefore initially viewed the¬†idea of PHP in CICS as a great way to take reliable applications and make them unreliable/unpredictable,¬†while probably crashing the rest of the innocent CICS apps at the same time.

However, it turns out IBM is not stupid. The biggest point that relieved my fears is that the PHP support is provided in its own address space. Now, CICS is REALLY good at protecting different address spaces from hurting each other Рin fact I was part of the team that delivered the multi-region operations (MRO) capabilities to I can vouch personally that this is the case.  So all of a sudden, what had me running screaming for the hills begins to sound like something quite exciting and yet also non-threatening. As I thought about it more (and talked to some people half my age who are PHP fans and really understand the sorts of things it can do) I began to realize how smart IBM has been here. This is a great way to provide a more flexible and rapid way to build jazzy front ends to CICS apps, extending their life sustantially. It also offers the modern wave of technical people an environment with which they are initmately familiar.

The upshot is, PHP support for CICS¬†looks like a winner. There is no need to panic about disruption to operations, because of IBM’s smart thinking in¬†isolating the PHP functionality, but on the other hand¬†this support offers companies a way to leverage their CICS investments, keep¬†the technology vital and alive, respond far more quickly to the need for more attractive interfaces enabling more efective multi-channel delivery and get the kids excited¬†and contributing.

New Lustratus Research Report – A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances

Just a short note to say that I’ve uploaded a new report to our web store at lustratus.com.

The report, entitled A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances focuses on Intel’s SOA Expressway, IBM’s DataPower range and Layer7’s SecureSpan SOA Appliance. In the report I compare and contrast the technical and strategic approaches each vendor takes to addressing the task of creating, managing, accelerating and securing a service oriented architecture using appliances.

The report can be found here.

Steve Craggs

IBM acquires Cast Iron

castironI am currently at IBM’s IMPACT show in¬†Las Vegas, where the WebSphere brand gets to flaunt its wares, and of course one of the big stories was IBM’s announcement that is has acquired Cast Iron.

While Cast Iron may only be a small company, the acquisition has major implications. Over the past few years, Cast Iron has established itself as the prime provider of Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to on-premise integration, with a strong position in the growing Cloud ecosystem of suppliers. Cast Iron has partnerships with a huge number of players in the Cloud and application packages spaces, including companies such as  Salesforce.com, SAP and Microsoft, and so IBM is not just getting powerful technology but also in one move it is taking control of the linkage between Cloud and anything else.

On the product front, the killer feature of Cast Iron’s offering is its extensive range of pre-built integration templates covering many of the major Cloud and on-premise environments.¬†So, for example, if an organization wants to link invoice information¬†in its SAP system with the¬†Salesforce.com¬†sales force environment,¬† then the¬†Cast Iron offering includes prepared templates for¬†the required definitions and configurations. The result is that the integration can be set up in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

So why is this so important? Well, for one, most people have already realized that Cloud usage must work hand-in-hand with on-premise applications, based on such things as security needs and prior investments. On top of this, different clouds will serve different needs. So integration between clouds and applications is going to be a fact of life. IBM’s acquisition leaps it into the forefront of this area, in both technology and partner terms. But there is a more strategic impact of this acquisition too. Noone knows what the future holds, and how the Cloud market will develop. Think of the situation of mainframes and distributed solutions. As the attractions of distributed systems grew, doomsayers were quick to predict the end of the mainframe. However, IBM developed a powerful range of integration solutions in order to allow organizations to leverage the advantages of both worlds WITHOUT having to choose one from the other. This situation almost feels like a repeat – Cloud has a lot of advantages, and some misguided ‘experts’ think that Cloud is the start of the end for on-premise systems. However, whether you believe this or not, IBM has once again ensured that it has got a running start in providing integration options to ensure that users can continue to gain value from both cloud and on-premise investments.

Steve

Progress Software acquires Savvion

handshakeSo Progress Software has bought yet another software company; this time a BPM vendor, Savvion. But is this the right move for Progress?

Progress Software has spent most of its life growing through acquisition, making use of the piles of cash generated by its legacy mid-range database product to find new areas of growth. After all, the legacy business may be highly profitable, but its returms are dwindling by the year and Porgress desperately needs something else to shore up its balance sheet. Unfortunately its acquisitions have had a bit of a patchy record of success. Perhaps it will be different this time.

Savvion is a credible BPM (Business Process Management) software provider, and 2009 was a bumper year for BPM sales. Specialist companies like Pegasystems and Lombardi showed huge growth rates, bucking the downward trend triggered across many technology sectors by the economic upheaval. On top of this, Progress has been trying to establish itself as a viable SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and business integration vendor ever since it launched the Sonic ESB in the early years of the last decade, and BPM was a glaring hole in its portfolio. For these reasons, it is easy to see why Savvion would seem a good fit.

There seem to be two problems for Progress, however.¬†Firstly, BPM is now rarely a solution bought in¬†its own right – hence¬†the rapid consolidation of the BPM market with Pegasystems more or less the only major¬†oure-play BPM left standing following IBM’s acquisition of Lombardi. Instead, BPM is deployed more and more as part of a business transformation strategy involving components such as SOA, application and data integration, business rules, business monitoring¬†and business¬†events management. ¬†Secondly, the¬†gorillas in the space are now IBM, Oracle and SAP. These companies all offer a full suite of products and more importantly services based around BPM and the rest of the modern infrastructure stack. Companies such as Software AG, TIBCO and Axway form a credible second tier, too.

In previous acquisitions, Progress has treated each acqusition as purely software products. This is not surprising, since selling databases is more about selling products than selling solutions. However, it is this factor that has been at the root of the patchy performance of Progress acquisitions. For instance, the Data Direct division of Progress, where it placed a number of acquisitions in the data space, has fared reasonably well. This is because it is more of a product business. However its attempts in areas such as ESBs and SOA governance have suffered due to a seeming reluctance to embrace a more industry-specific, services-based solution model.

With its acqusition of Savvion, Progress once again has the chance to try to show the market that it has learnt from its mistakes. BPM is absolutely an area where companies need to be offered solutions Рproducts together with services and guidance to develop effective and affordable business solutions. It will be hard enough for Progress to cut a share of the BPM pie with all the big players involved, but it does have one outstanding advantage; it has a strong and accessible customer base in the mid-range market where the larger companies struggle. However, if it fails to take on board the need to hire industryvertical skills and solution-based field and service professionals then this acquisition could prove to be yet another lost opportunity.

Steve

Unlocking more value from legacy CICS applications

old-lockIBM’s acquisition of ILOG has resulted in a great new opportunity to unlock the business value of CICS applications by turning the COBOL logic into easy-to-read/edit ‘business rules’.

IBM has taken the ILOG JRules Business Rules Management System (BRMS) and made it part of the WebSphere family. But even better for CICS users, IBM has made this business rules capability available for CICS applications too. This whole subject is discussed in more detail in a new and free Lustratus Report, downloadable from the Lustratus web store, entitled “Using business rules with CICS for greater flexibility and control”. But why is this capability of interest?

The answer is that many of the key business applications in the corporate world are still CICS COBOL mainframe applications, and although these applications are highly effective and reliable, they sometimes lack in terms of flexibility and adaptability.¬†Not unreasonably, companies are loath to go to the expense and risk of rewriting these essential programs, but are instead looking for some technology-based answer to their needs for greater agility and control. The BRMS idea provides just that. Basically, the logic implementing the business decisions in the operational CICS applications is extracted and turned into plain-speaking, non-technical business rules, such as ‘If this partner has achieved GOLD certification, then apply a 10% discount to all transactions’. This has a number of benefits:

  • It becomes easy for rules to be changed
  • It becomes easy for a business user to verify the rules are correctly implemented
  • If desired, business users can edit operational rules directly

While BRMS is a technology with a lot to offer in many scenarios, it seems particularly well suited to legacy environments, providing a way to unlock increased potential and value from existing investments.

Steve