IBM to Consolidate 3,900 Servers onto 33 Mainframes

Big Blue looks to use 80 percent less energy and save $250 million in costs over the next five years.

In what it touts as "the most significant transformation" of its worldwide data centers in a generation, IBM announced Aug. 1 that it will consolidate about 3,900 of its own servers onto 33 virtualized System z mainframes running Linux to save electrical energy and cut back on its carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is a representation of the effect human activities have on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. Such a footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon dioxide or carbon emitted into the air, usually on an annual basis.

Officials with the Armonk, N.Y., company expect the new server environment to use about 80 percent less power than the current setups and believes IBM will save more than $250 million over five years in energy, software and system support costs, a spokesperson said.

The new initiative is part of Project Big Green, a broad commitment that IBM announced in May to sharply reduce data center energy consumption for both the company and its clients.

IBM, which has more than 8 million square feet of data center space, hopes that the new global infrastructure—which currently supports about 350,000 users—will serve as an example of cutting-edge data center design for large enterprises around the world.

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IBM data centers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Southbury, Conn.; Boulder, Colo.; Portsmouth, England; Osaka, Japan; and Sydney, Australia, will participate in the initiative.

"Were just going public with this now, but this has been in the works all through 2007," Dave Anderson, IBM Executive Briefing Center Team Leader for eServers, told eWEEK. "We went through and took a total inventory of all our servers and their workloads. The lower-utility servers and ones that were just not being used at all were obviously the first to be moved to the mainframes. And we actually had volunteers come forward, which you dont see happen very often."

The 3,900 displaced servers will be recycled by IBMs Global Asset Recovery Services, said Anderson, an expert in mainframes.

"We were going to upgrade the old servers anyway, and we figured consolidating them on mainframes was a better way to go," he said. "Were moving about 10 million MIPS [millions of instructions per second] with these 3,900 servers."

Because of the current trend to using less-expensive, open-systems servers in the data center, Anderson said, "mainframes are often overlooked when you talk about them in terms of green data centers. But the fact is, they are very energy efficient and can be virtualized more fully. More [carbon footprint] savings can often be made in those big machines than a data center with many small servers."

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The consolidation project capitalizes on the ability of a single mainframe to behave as hundreds or thousands of individual servers. This reconfiguration will deploy a mainframes system resources—including processing cycles, networking, storage and memory—to many virtual servers, Anderson said.

Each virtual server functions as would a real, physical machine, Anderson said. The migration aims to use only a portion of the capacity of each mainframe, leaving room for future growth, he said.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, said IBM not only reduces its own power and energy costs by consolidating workloads and servers onto mainframe systems, it also creates a showcase for its signature, high-end product – the System z mainframe – that will show its customers how they can also benefit from the technology.

Other major vendors, notably Hewlett-Packard, have also used their own data centers as laboratories and showcases to tout to customers and industry watchers the benefits of a particular technology. Since IBM is the only major North American OEM that still produces a mainframe system, King said its natural that the company would use that technology as part of any data center consolidation project.

"The mainframe for large enterprises is a growing vibrant platform," he said. "About 10 years ago, everyone was talking about the demise of the mainframe. The fact is that IBMs mainframe sales continue to grow and the number of business that deploy it continue to grown. IBM has done a great job showing that the mainframe in showing that the mainframe is vital, and it continues to be an innovative platform."

King added that IBM has also shown how enterprises can leverage Linux with these types of consolidation projects.

"IBM was one of the first major vendors to support Linux, and it has been in the forefront of showing how Linux can be deployed across an entire server platform," he said.

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