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April 11, 2012updated 22 Aug 2016 12:43pm

IBM launches a honking great cloud in a box, kinda

New PureSystems architecture combines server, storage, software and networking

By Jason Stamper

IBM today announced what UK & Ireland CEO Stephen Leonard described as one of the firm’s, "Most significant announcements in the last 20 years": a new integrated systems architecture called PureSystems.

Claiming the firm spent $2bn developing the new systems and bringing together expertise from acquisitions including appliance vendors DataPower and Netezza, PureSystems essentially puts server power, IBM V7000 storage, a network fabric, IBM middleware and software into a single box. The million dollar question – how much it will cost – will not be made available until "later today".

IBM is making much of the idea that this is a new enterprise computing model, and a break from previous attempts at preconfigured systems because the architecture is for the most part open rather than proprietary – the systems can be loaded with IBM POWER or Intel x86 chips and run third-party software as well as IBM’s own.

The details then: the first two boxes announced are the PureFlex System and the PureApplication System.

IBM PureSystems
Double trouble: the PureFlex meets the PureApplication.

PureFlex is described as an infrastructure system, expert at "serving and anticipating resource needs to optimise your infrastructure". You can opt to load it with up to 608 compute cores, each with 16GB of RAM, and it can carry up to 6TB of solid state disk (SSD) and 48TB of traditional hard drives. Hooking the server horsepower to the IBM Storwize V7000 storage can be Infiniband, Fibre Channel or Ethernet fabrics. There are three options: Express, Standard and Enterprise, but the precise difference between these is as yet unclear.

The PureApplication System on the other hand is aimed at running apps, as you’d expect. It comes with the likes of IBM’s DB2 and middleware preloaded and as with the PureFlex System the talk is all about rapid time to value thanks to fast deployment, which is in turn thanks to all the work IBM says it’s done on integration and having a single management pane of glass.

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There are four configurations available for this model – 96 cores and 1.5TB of RAM; 192 cores and 3.1TB of RAM; 384 cores with 6.1TB of RAM or 608 cores with 9.7TB of RAM. Again, there’s 6TB of SSD and 48TB of HDD.

IBM says its customers have been asking for more flexibility and speed of deployment for some time – its own research found that two-thirds of corporate IT projects are delivered over budget and behind schedule. The PureSystems are meant to help address that issue.

As well as bringing together server, storage, networking, middleware and software, IBM says it’s also developed a number of ‘Patterns’ for the systems – these are said to be a new software capability – "patterns of expertise" — that enables operational know-how and knowledge to be built into the systems. There are a number of IBM-developed patterns that can be built-in at the factory, and IBM has also teamed with a raft of ISVs who have developed their own patterns for the PureSystems. These can be found in an online catalogue called PureCentre.

Cloud computing was mentioned regularly at the announcement, and while IBM didn’t go so far as to call PureSystems a cloud in a box, it did say they are "cloud ready systems". It says they can be used to stand up a private cloud "in minutes" thanks to a cloud self-service and provisioning interface that comes pre-installed. Additionally Big Blue said PureSystems integrates the same foundational technologies and software used in IBM’s public SmartCloud offerings, so application developers can use IBM SmartCloud services to create and test new apps for PureSystems.

However one of the primary goals of cloud computing is elasticity – the ability to scale up but also to scale down when the business demands it. But if you buy a PureSystems box with 608 cores and then decide you have more than you need, IBM isn’t offering to refund you the money and turn off unwanted cores until you need them again. It can scale up (to a maximum of 608 cores) but it doesn’t scale down. IBM’s Leonard told CBR that customers seeing very seasonal peaks and troughs would be better looking at IBM’s more traditional public cloud computing offerings.

So roughly how many of these does Leonard expect to sell in the UK this year? More than five? Less than 500? "More than five for sure," he told CBR.

In Summary

The good:
Fast time to value
POWER or x86 chips
Integrated server, storage, networking, middleware, software
One vendor’s ‘throat to choke’ if anything goes wrong
Can run third party apps and middleware, even Oracle’s
Helps to drive up utilization rates, some private cloud features built-in

The not-so-good:
Pricing? To be announced.
Scales up but doesn’t scale down
Less obvious benefits if not planning on running IBM software and middleware
Potentially cannibalizes some of IBM’s zEnterprise ‘system of systems’ business
Not entirely clear why, if they are as flexible as IBM says, there are already two configurations, PureFlex and PureApplications (other than so that IBM can potentially sell two boxes to some customers)


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