IBM PureSystems Review

PureSystems, something old, something new, something from big blue


For a certain generation of IBM faithful or followers the recently announced PureFlex and PureApplication systems might give a sense of DejaVu perhaps even causing some to wonder if they just woke up from a long Rip Van Winkle type nap.

Yet for another generation who may not yet be future IBM followers, fans, partners or customers, there could be a sense of something new and revolutionary with the PureFlex and PureApplication systems (twitter @ibmpuresystems).

In between those two groups, exist others who are either scratching their heads or reinvigorated with enthusiasm to get out and be able to discuss opportunities around little data (traditional and transactional) and big data, servers, virtualized, converged infrastructure, dynamic data centers, private clouds, ITaaS, SaaS and AaaS, PaaS, IaaS and other related themes or buzzword bingo topics.

Let us dig a little deeper and look at some So What types of questions and industry trends perspectives comments around what IBM has announced.

So what did IBM announce'
IBM announced PureSystems including:

  • PureFlex systems, products and technologies
  • PureApplication systems
  • PureSystems Centre

You can think of IBM PureSystems and Flex Systems Products and technology as a:

  • Private cloud or turnkey solution bundle solution
  • Platform deploying public or hybrid clouds
  • Data center in a box or converged and dynamic system
  • ITaaS or SaaS/AaaS or PaaS or IaaS or Cloud in a box
  • Rackem stack and package them type solution

So what is an IBM PureFlex System and what is IBM using'
It is a factory integrated data and compute infrastructure in a cabinet combing cloud, virtualization, servers, data and storage networking capabilities. The IBM PureFlex system is comprised of various IBM and products and technologies (hardware, software and services) optimized with management across physical and virtual resources (servers, storage (V7000), networking, operating systems, hypervisors and tools).

PureFlex includes automation and optimization technologies along with what IBM is referring to as patterns of expertise or what you might relate to as templates. Support for various hypervisors and management integration along with application and operating system support by leveraging IBM xSeries (x86 such as Intel) and pSeries (Power7) based processors for compute. Storage is the IBM V7000 (here and here) with networking and connectivity via IBM and their partners. The solution is capable of supporting traditional, virtual and cloud deployment models as well as platform for deploying Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) on a public, managed service provider (MSP), hosting or private basis.


So what are the speeds and feeds of a PureFlex system'
The components that make up the PureFlex line include:

  • IBM management node (server with management software tools).
  • 10Gb Ethernet (LAN) switch, adapters and associated cabling.
  • IBM V7000 virtual storage (also see here and here).
  • Dual 8GFC (8Gb Fibre Channel) SAN switches and adapters.
  • Servers with either x86 xSeries using for example Intel Sandy Bridge EP 2.6 GHz 8 core processors, or IBMs Power7 based pSeries for AIX. Note that IBM with their blade center systems (now rebadged as part of being PureSystems) support various IO and networking interfaces include SAS, Ethernet, Fibre Channel (FC), Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and InfiniBand using adapters and switches from various partners.
  • Virtual machine (VM) hypervisors such as Microsoft Hyper V and VMware vSphere/ESX among others. In addition to x86 based hypervisors or kernel virtual machines (KVM), IBM also supports its own virtual technology found in Power7 based systems. Check IBM support matrix for specific configurations and current offerings.
  • Optional middleware such as IBM WebSphere.

Read more speeds and feeds at the various IBM sites including on Tony Pearson’s blog site.

So what is IBM PureApplication System'
This builds off and on PureFlex systems as a foundation for deploying various software stacks to deliver traditional IT applications or cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS) and Application as a Service (AaaS) models. For example cloud or web stacks, java, database, analytics or other applications with buzzwords of elastic, scalable, repeatable, self-service, rapid provisioning, resilient, multi tenant and secure among others. Note that if are playing or into Buzzword bingo, go ahead and say Bingo when you are ready as IBM has a winner in this category.

So what is the difference between PureFlex and PureApplication systems'
PureApplication systems leverage PureFlex technologies adding extra tools and functionality for cloud like application functionality delivery.

So what is IBM PureSystems Centre'
It is a portal or central place where IBM and their business partner solutions pertaining to PureApplication and PureFlex systems can be accessed for including information for first installation support along with maintenance and upgrades. At launch, IBM is touting more than 150 solutions or applications that are available or qualified for deployment on PureApplication and PureFlex systems. In addition, IBM Patterns (aka templates) can also be accessed via this venue. Examples of application or independent software vendor (ISV) developed solutions for banking, education, financial, government, healthcare and insurance can be found at the PureSystems Centre portal (here, here and here).

So what part of this is a service and what is a product'
Other than the PureSystem center, which is a web portal for accessing information and technologies, PureFlex and PureApplication along with Virtual Appliance Factory are products or solutions that can be bought from IBM or their business partners. In addition, IBM business partners or third parties can also use these solutions housed in their own, a customer, or third-party facility for delivering managed service provided (MSP) capabilities, along with other PaaS and SaaS or AaaS type functionalities. In other words, these solutions can be bought or leased by IT and other organizations for their own use in a traditional IT deployment model, private, hybrid or public cloud model.

Another option is for service providers to acquire these solutions for use in developing and delivering their own public and private or hybrid services. IBM is providing the hard product (hardware and software) that enables your return on innovation (the new ROI) to create and deliver your own soft product (services and experiences) consumed by those who use those capabilities. In addition to traditional financial quantitative return on investment (traditional ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO), the new ROI complements those by adding a qualitative aspect. Your return on innovation will be dependent on what you are capable of doing that enables your customers or clients to be productive or creative. For example enabling your customers or clients to boost productivity, remove complexity and cost while maintaining or enhancing Quality of Service (QoS), service level objectives (SLOs) and service level agreements (SLAs) in addition to supporting growth by using a given set of hard products. Thus, your soft product is a function of your return on innovation and vise versa.

Note that in this context, not to be confused with hardware and software, hard product are those technologies including hardware, software and services that are obtained and deployed as a soft product. A soft product in this context does not refer to software, rather the combination of hard products plus your own developed or separately obtained software and tools along with best practices and usage models. Thus, two organizations can use the same hard products and deliver separate soft products with different attributes and characteristics including cost, flexibility and customer experience.

So what is a Pattern of Expertise'
Combines operational know how experience and knowledge about common infrastructure resource management (IRM), data center infrastructure management (DCIM) and other commonly repeatable related process, practices and workflows including provisioning. Common patterns of activity and expertise for routine or other time-consuming tasks, which some might refer to as templates or workflows enable policy driven based automation. For example, IBM cites recurring time-consuming tasks that lend themselves to being automated such as provisioning, configuration, and upgrades and associated IRM, DCIM and data protection, storage and application management activities. Automation software tools are included as part of the PureSystems with patterns being downloadable as packages for common tasks and applications found at the IBM PureSystem center.

At announcement, there are three types or categories of patterns:

  • IBM patterns: Factory created and supplied with the systems based on experiences IBM has derived from various managers, engineers and technologist for automating common tasks including configuration, deployment and application upgrades and maintenance. The aim is to cut the amount of time and intervention for deployment of applications and other common functions enabling IT staff to be more productive and address other needs.
  • ISV patterns: These leverage experience and knowledge from ISVs partnered with IBM, which at time of launch numbers over 125 vendors offering certified PureSystems Ready applications. The benefit and objective are to cut the time and complexity associated with procuring (e.g. purchasing), deploying and managing third-party ISV software. Downloadable patterns packages can be found at the IBM PureSystem center.
  • Customer patterns: Enables customers to collect and package their own knowledge, processes, rules, policies and best practices into patterns for automation. In addition to collecting knowledge for acquisition, configuration, day to day management and troubleshooting, these patterns can facility automation of tasks to ease on boarding of new staff employees or contractors. In addition, these patterns or templates capture workflows for automation enabling shorter deployment times of systems and applications into locations where skill sets do not exist.

Here is a link to some additional information about patterns on the IBM developerWorks site.


So what about the IBM Virtual Appliance Factory'
Where PureFlex and PureApplication (PureSystems) are the platforms or vehicles for enabling your journey to efficient and effective information services delivery, and PureSystem centre (or center for those of you in the US) is the portal or information center, the IBM Virtual Appliance Factory (VAF) is a collection of tools, technologies, processes and methodologies. The VAF  helps developers or ISVs to prepackage applications or solutions for deployment into Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM) on Intel and IBM PowerVM  virtualized environments that are also supported by PureFlex and PureApplication  systems.

VAF technologies include Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) Open Virtual Alliance (OVA) Open Virtualization Format (OVF) along with other tools for combing operating systems (OS), middleware and solution software into a delivery package or a virtual appliance that can be deployed into cloud and virtualized environments. Benefits include reducing complexity of working logical partions (LPAR) and VM configuration, abstraction and portability for deployment or movement from private to public environments. Net result should be less complexity lowering costs while reducing mean time to install and deploy. Here is a link to learn more about VAF and its capabilities and how to get started.

So what does cloud ready mean'
IBM is touting cloud ready capability in the context of rapid out of the box, ease of deployment and use as well as easy to acquire. This is in line with what others are doing with converged server, storage, networking, hardware, software and hypervisor solutions. IBM is also touting that they are using the same public available products as what they use in their own public services SmartCloud offerings.

So what is scale in vs. scale up, scale out or scale within'
Traditional thinking is that scaling refers to increasing capacity. Scaling also means increasing performance, availability, functionality with stability. Scaling with stability means that as performance, availability, capacity or other features are increased problems are not introduced or complexity is not increased. For example, scaling with stability for performance should not result in loss of availability or capacity, capacity increase should not be at the cost of performance or availability, should not cost performance or capacity and management tools should work for you, instead of you working for them.

Scaling up and scaling out have been used to describe scaling performance, availability, capacity and other attributes beyond the limits of a single system, box or cabinet. For example clustered, cloud, grid and other approaches refer to scaling out or horizontally across different physical resources. Scaling up or scaling vertically means scaling within in a system using faster, denser technologies doing more in the same footprint. HDS announced a while back what they refer to 3D scaling which embraces the above notions of scaling up, out and within across different dimensions. IBM is building on that by emphasizing scaling leveraging faster, denser components such as Power7 and Intel processors to scale within the box or system or node, which can also be scaled out using enhanced networking from IBM and their partners.

So what about backup/restore, BC, DR and general data protection'
I would expect IBM to step up and talk about how they can leverage their data protection and associated management toolsets, technologies and products. IBM has the components (hardware, software) already for backup/restore, BC, DR, data protection and security along with associated service offerings. One would expect IBM to not only come out with a data protection optimized solution or version, as well as ones for archiving or data preservation, compliance appliance variants as well as related themes. We know that IBM has the pieces, people, process and practices, let us see if IBM has learned from their competitors who may have missed data protection messaging opportunities. Sometimes what is assumed to be understood does not get discussed, however often what is assumed and is not understood should be discussed, hence, let us see if IBM does more than say oh yes, we have those capabilities and products too.

So what do these have compared to others who are doing similar things'
Different vendors have taken various approaches for bringing converged products or solutions to the market place. Not surprising, storage centric vendors EMC and NetApp have partnered with Cisco for servers (compute). Where Cisco was known for networking having more recently moved into compute servers, EMC and NetApp are known for storage and moving into converged space with servers. Since EMC and NetApp often compete with storage solutions offerings from traditional server vendors Dell, HP, IBM and Oracle among others, and now Cisco is also competing with those same server vendors it has previously partnered with for networking thus it makes sense for Cisco, EMC and NetApp to partner.

While EMC owns a large share of VMware, they do also support Microsoft and other partners including Citrix. NetApp followed EMC into the converged space partnering with Cisco for compute and networking adding their own storage along with supporting hypervisors from Citrix, Microsoft and VMware along with third-party ISVs including Microsoft and SAP among others. Dell has evolved from reference architectures to products called vStart that leverage their own technologies along with those of partners.

A challenge for Dell however is that vStart  sounds more like a service offering as opposed to a product that they or their VARs and business partners can sell and add value around. HP is also in the converged game as is Oracle among others. With PureSystems IBM is building on what their competitors and in some cases partners are doing by adding and messaging more around the many ISVs and applications that are part of the PureSystems initiative. Rest assured, there is more to PureSystems than simply some new marketing, press releases, videos and talking about partners and ISVs. The following table provides a basic high level comparison of what different vendors are doing or working towards and is not intended to be a comprehensive review.

[Click here to view the table]

So what took IBM so long compared to others'
Good question, what is the saying' Rome was not built-in a day!


So what does this mean for IBM Business Partners (BPs) and ISVs'
What could very well differentiate IBM PureSystems from those of other competitors is to take what their partner NetApp has done with FlexPods combing third-party applications from Microsoft and SAP among others and take it to the next level. Similar to what helped make EMC Centera a success (or at least sell a lot of them) was inclusion and leveraging third-party ISVs and BPs  to add value. Compared to other vendors with object based or content accessible storage (CAS) or online archive platforms that focused on the technology feature, function speeds and feeds, EMC realized the key was getting ISVs to support so that BPs and their own direct sales force could sell the solution.

With PureSystems, IBM is revisiting what they have done in the past which if offer bundled solutions providing incentives for ISVs to support and BPs to sell the IBM brand solution. EMC took an early step with including VMware with their Vblock combing server, storage, networking and software with NetApp taking the next step adding SAP, Microsoft and other applications. Dell, HP, Oracle and others are following suit so it only makes sense that IBM returns to its roots leveraging its DNA to reach out and get their ISVs who are now, have been in the past, or are new opportunities to be on board.

IBM is throwing its resources including their innovation centers for training around the world where business partners can get the knowledge and technical support they need. In other words, workshops or seminars on how to sell deploy and setting up of these systems, application and customer testing or proof of concepts and things one would expect out of IBM for such an initiative. In addition to technology and sales training along with marketing support, IBM is making their financing capabilities available to help customers as well as offer incentives to their business partners to simplify acquisitions.

So what buzzword bingo topics and themes did IBM address with this announcement:
IBM did a fantastic job in terms of knocking the ball out of the park with this announcement pertaining buzzword bingo and deserves an atta boy or atta girl!

So what about how this will affect sales of Bladecenters  or other systems'
If all IBM and their BPs do are, encroach on existing systems sales to circle the wagons and protect the installed base, which would be one thing. However if IBM and their BPs can use the new packaging and model approach to reestablish customers and partnerships, or open and expand into new adjacent markets, then the net differences should be more Bladecenters (excuse me, PureFlex) being sold.

So what will this cost'
IBM is citing entry PureSystems Express models starting at around $100,000 USD for base systems with others starting at around $200,000 and $300,000 expandable into larger configurations and budgets. Note that like airlines that advertise a low airfare and then you get to pay extra for peanuts, drinks, extra bag space, changes to reservations and so forth, look at these and related systems not just for the first starting price, also for expansion costs over different time periods. Contact IBM, your BP or ISV to find out what one of these systems will do for and cost you.

So what about VARs and IBM business partners (BPs)'
This could be a boon for those BPs and ISVs  that had previously sold their software solutions bundled with IBM hardware platforms who were being challenged by other converged solution stacks or were being forced to unbundled. This will also allow those business partners to compete on par with other converged solutions or continue selling the pieces of what they are familiar with however under a new umbrellas. Of course, pricing will be a focus and concern for some who will want to see what added value exists vs. acquiring the various components. This also means that IBM will have to make incentives available for their partners to make a living while also allowing their customers to afford solutions and maximize their return on innovation (the new ROI) and enablement.


So what about vendor or technology lock in'
So who is responsible for vendor or technology lock in' When I was working in IT organizations, (e.g. what vendors call the customer) the thinking was vendors are responsible for lock in. Later when I worked for different vendors (manufactures and VARs) the thinking was lock in is what was caused by the competition. More recently I’m of the mind set that vendor lock in is a shared responsibility issue and topic. I’m sure some marketing wiz or sales type will be happy to explain the subtle differences of how their solution does not cause lock in.

Vendor lock in can be a shared responsibility. Generally speaking, lock in, stickiness and account control are essentially the same, or at least strive to get similar results. For example, vendor lock in too some has a negative stigma. However vendor stickiness may be a new term, perhaps even sounding cool thus it is not a concern. Remember the Mary Poppins song a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down' In other words, sometimes changing and using a different term such as sticky vs. vendor lock in helps make the situation taste better.

So what should you do'
Take a closer look if you are considering converged infrastructures, cloud or data centers in a box, turnkey application or information services deployment platforms. Likewise, if you are looking at specific technologies such as those from Cisco UCS, Dell vStart, EMC Vblock (or via VCE), HP, NetApp FlexPod or Oracle (ExaLogic, ExaData, etc) among others, also check out the IBM PureSystems (Flex and PureApplication). 

Compare and contrast these converged solutions with your traditional procurement and deployment modes including cost of acquiring hardware, software, ongoing maintenance or service fees along with value or benefit of bundled tools. There may be a higher cost for converged systems in some scenarios, however compare on the value and benefit derived vs. doing the integration yourself.

Compare and contrast how converged solutions enable, however also consider what constraints exists in terms of flexibility to reconfigure in the future or make other changes. For example as part of integration, does a solution take a lowest common denominator approach to software and firmware revisions for compatibility that may lag behind what you can apply to standalone components. Also, compare and contrast various reference architectures with different solution bundles or packages.

Most importantly compare and evaluate the solutions on their ability to meet and exceed your base requirements while adding value and enabling return on innovation while also being cost-effective. Do not be scared of these bundled solutions; however do your homework to make informed decisions including overcoming any concerns of lock in or future costs and fees. While these types of solutions are cool or interesting from a technology perspective and can streamline acquisition and deployment, make sure that there is a business benefit that can be addressed as well as enablement of new capabilities.

So what does this all mean'
Congratulations to IBM with their PureSystems for leveraging their DNA and roots bundling what had been unbundled before cloud and stacks were popular and trendy. IBM has done a good job of talking vision and strategy along lines of converged and dynamic, elastic and smart, clouds and other themes for past couple of years while selling the pieces as parts of solutions or ala carte or packaged by their ISVs and business partners.

What will be interesting to see is if bladecenter customers shift to buying PureFlex, which should be an immediate boost to give proof points of adoption, while essentially up selling what was previously available. However, more interesting will be to see if net overall new customers and footprints are sold as opposed to simply selling a newer and enhanced version of previous components.

In other words will IBM be able to keep up their focus and execution where they have sold the previous available components, while also holding onto current ISV and BP footprint sales and perhaps enabling those partners to recapture some hardware and solution sales that had been unbundled (e.g. ISV software sold separate of IBM platforms) and move into new adjacent markets.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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