How mainframes fit into cloud computing

Al Williams, an IT director at Penn State and conference director at IT user group Share, discusses his organization's foray into the cloud, and how mainframes might fit in.

Share, an IT user group made up mostly of mainframers, will hold its conference in Denver next week, and will feature 17 sessions on cloud computing. Do mainframes and cloud computing really go together? asked Al Williams, the director of conference operations and IT director at Penn State University, who talked about the mainframe's place in the cloud, the difference between cloud computing and mainframe time-sharing, and what Penn State has done in cloud computing.

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How did Penn State get into cloud computing, and what are you doing with it? 
What got me started on this was I talked to a researcher who went out on his own and purchased Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for himself on his university purchase card. I was just surprised, and he said that he loved it. That was two years ago.

What we then did was work on a project called COmanage for Internet2 (an academic-based Internet consortium that includes more than 200 universities). It is universities working together to put together a suite of offerings to share with one another, and it would be jointly managed. We got the idea that we could put a package together and put it out on EC2, and so that's what we did.

What surprised you about cloud computing? 
The cost. It was way cheaper to get this instance up and running than I ever thought. I just put it on my Penn State credit card. Now we're using about $300 a month. How can you buy a computing service for that cheap? If I went out and bought a rackmount server, I couldn't do it that cheaply.

With Share having so many mainframe users as members, what do you see as the mainframe's place in the cloud? 
Hardware may not be totally relevant. I know some people are going to hate me for [saying] that. You can create a cloud for System z, but you can also do it with IBM's xSeries if you wanted. There is always the potential to host a private cloud on the mainframe. I could take System z and run a virtual machine running Red Hat or SUSE, and I could probably run COmanage there if I wanted. You may not give a hoot where your compute power comes from as long as it does what you need it to do.

That said, what is the difference between cloud computing and mainframe time-sharing? 
As far as time-sharing goes, . . . I have this sneaky feeling that we're kind of headed back that way. More and more we see applications where the browser is the API [application programming interface] of choice. So how would it differ? I think it would be along the aspects of what you could do with the Web, which is different from the 3270 interface. The cloud also isn't restricted to the mainframe. It can include the mainframe and other servers, and so it might be more flexible that way.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming.

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