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University of Miami moves to the mainframe

Sick of out-of-control server sprawl and seeking a more powerful platform for running Linux applications, the University of Miami (Fla.) brought in an IBM z890 to help.

When it comes time for data center managers to plan for the future, a common thread connects almost everyone planning a change in hardware. They want to know that their brand-new box is scalable enough to allow them to grow within its framework -- without having to pay through the nose to do it.

IBM has spent a lot of time and money touting its midrange mainframe line as a platform that matches its reputation for reliability with scalability on the cheap.

In August 2004, the University of Miami, one of the largest private research universities in the Southeast, went to a z890 box on Multiple Virtual Storage, with four logical partitions running SuSE Linux and z/VM virtualization. The university uses the zSeries to power its health care and academic research, as well as for some general administrative tasks.

Big Blue likes to counter industry claims that the mainframe is a dinosaur by citing examples such as University of Miami (Fla.). Fred Robinson, the university's director of technical operations, wasn't worried much about any Mesozoic Age issues down the line -- he was just sick of paying for server sprawl.

Robinson sought out a smaller footprint for his data center -- one that could also support Linux in a scalable manner -- so he decided to migrate to a mainframe that featured an Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) central processor.

The move replaced dozens of Dell, Intel and Unix servers that had become a handful. Robinson said he became frustrated by the limited speed and service those platforms provided for the open source software.

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Robinson was enamored with the capabilities of the IFL processor. A lot of the university's development projects were running on Linux, and Robinson was drawn in by the benefits of moving those development applications to the IFL processor.

Now that he's got an IFL to play with, Robinson said he's more than prepared for his data center's next round of growth with Linux because even after moving all of its Linux applications onto the IFL, it still has yet to fill 1% of its capacity.

"We realized we were going to be doing a lot more developing, and we were looking for a robust, scalable, multi-processor [box] for multiple Linux applications," Robinson said. "With the IFL, we've got more than enough memory. We're not even scratching the surface of the capabilities of the IFL processor."

But the primary reason Robinson got the go-ahead to migrate was, not surprisingly, cost. According to IBM, the z890 system will trim as much as $600,000 from the university's IT budget over the next five years.

"You save on maintenance, the dollars and the people needed to maintain multiple servers," Robinson said. "[With the z890] you've virtualized a whole bunch of independent servers under one roof."

zSeries program director Colette Martin said much of IBM's success with the mainframe as of late can be traced to the company's commitment to providing customers a platform built to support Linux. The z890 has been Big Blue's best-selling midrange mainframe to date, and Martin said IBM is thrilled with the platform's performance in the marketplace.

According to Martin, the Miami case is a perfect example of what a z890 can do for an IT ecosystem that wakes up one day with a common problem--hundreds of low-end servers deployed as data centers band-aids that wind up becoming an unmanageable mess.

"The z890 really hit the mark," Martin said. "The mainframe can help cut costs and simply your IT environment. It's an ideal platform to help customers deal with server farm sprawl."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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