Friday, April 24, 2015

BMC TrueSight Operations Management 10 for the Digital Age

By Rich Ptak

BMC introduced its TrueSight family of products last fall. They promised “to help improve the user experience, optimize service levels, and reduce ownership costs”. They would accomplish this by first seamlessly integrating their capacity optimization and operations management solutions with real-time and predictive analytics for root-cause analysis. Second, they announced a strategic initiative focused on enabling a speedier, more successful transformation to the Digital Age with solutions that bring “IT to life”. They will produce intuitive tools that facilitate collaboration between IT and business staffs “while fostering delivery of digital services that directly engage customers, partners and stakeholders.”

We liked their approach at the time and subsequent announcements[1] reinforced our opinion. BMC’s announcement of TrueSight IT Operations Management 10 offers new levels of sophistication, innovation, simplification and effectiveness.

Modernizing IT Operations in response to Digital Change
Succeeding in today’s Digital Age requires modernizing management, analysis and reporting of IT Operations. IT staffs have had to juggle multiple screens, unintegrated and unconsolidated data coming at them from a variety of sources. The problem wasn’t a lack of data, but the inability to quickly assemble a coherent, informative view.  BMC focuses on three areas to address those issues. These are: 1) Smart Operations, 2) User-centric performance, and Proactive Analytics. Here is what BMC is providing in each of these.

Smart Operations
Digital Age enterprises must be able to rapidly respond to changing customer and market demands for services. Service delivery depends upon application performance which is directly linked to consistent, reliable infrastructure operations. Dependencies that extend and interact across multiple, different infrastructure devices and elements pose a management challenge. Adding to the complexity is handling combinations of infrastructure and apps that are increasingly dynamic and mobile. The piece-meal, siloed approach of yesterday’s solutions complicated the task of just visualizing end-to-end relationships across infrastructure and applications, let alone identifying and correcting problems.

Smart Operations allows IT and business staff to create customizable converged, end-to-end views of infrastructure and application that are meaningful to them. Problem identification and analysis is faster and easier. Data from multiple sources including events, devices, health, performance, status, etc. can be consolidated to provide application-centric views of what is happening.

Customizable dashboards allow creation of converged views that reflect the interests and responsibilities of operations and management staff. Workflows can be created to speed analysis and facilitate drill-down to identify and rectify problems. Baselines are automatically and dynamically created along with notification of abnormal events. Probable cause analysis reduces alarms and false positive using enterprise specific rules. 

User-Centric Performance
Today’s market for service development and delivery is increasingly competitive and global in its expectations and operations. Fickle customers demand a perfect or near-perfect experience in every exchange. IT operations staff cannot afford to wait for a user’s complaint of poor service to initiate efforts to identify a problem. They need a User-centric Performance view along with an understanding of how application and infrastructure performance impacts the user’s experience. IT operations staff needs information that allows them to know if undetected problems are causing service disruption.

This approach marks the next step in the logical evolution of Application Performance Management (APM) for IT operations. By converging the perspective of applications and infrastructure, IT can more quickly resolve problems (when they cannot be avoided) and proactively manage their environment so those problems don’t crop up again.

Proactive Analytics
Today’s users have been conditioned to expect an exceptional experience. They demand rapid resolution when (expectedly rare) problems do occur. IT must be able to detect and even anticipate when changes in application and infrastructure performance indicate potential service delivery problems. IT operations must be able to monitor health, performance and availability data on all infrastructure and applications involved in service delivery. In practice, this means the hardware, the OS, any middleware, and finally the application. They must be able to detect anomalies, identify and assess the potential impact on service delivery and decide on the appropriate action to avoid disruptions. To do this, IT operations staff must have access to Proactive Analytics able to rapidly process large amounts of the full range of data (log, event, machine, structured, unstructured, etc.). 

In addition, BMC’s TrueSight recognizes the difficulty in handling problem determination across multiple suppliers. It is capable of handling the events and data from most 3rd party suppliers. It will use this data in the analytics engine for a probable cause analysis. It is also able to collect and index data and events across a wide range of environments to help pinpoint the root-cause of a problem.

Summary
BMC’s TrueSight 10 is a significant step forward for IT operations management. It should materially reduce the number of false positives that IT departments have had to waste time on in the past. Moreover, it offers new functions that will make IT a more valuable and attractive partner to the business functions in the company.

It’s our opinion that the introduction of BMC‘s TrueSight approach accelerates a much needed advance in the modernization of IT’s abilities for proactive monitoring, managing and resolving the increasingly complex problems of delivering IT services. This approach places them at the "head of the pack" of those offering operations management solutions. No other vendor has adopted and implemented an equivalently comprehensive integration of function with a comparable focus on the user's experience. And, that's how competition benefits everyone!





[1] See our blogs on BMC announcements at http://ptakassociates.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Supercomputing’s Future is Open Systems and that means IBM’s OpenPOWER

By Rich Ptak/Bill Moran



Supercomputing is a fascinating topic. There is an organization maintaining a Top 500[1] supercomputer scorecard listing the world’s top supercomputers. In the latest edition (November 2014) of the top 10 systems listed, four are IBM Power-based systems, three are Cray, two are Intel, and one is Sparc-based. Clearly, Power has already earned a strong position at the top of the heap and has momentum there.

Another fair question might be: “what will OpenPOWER’s position be going forward?” We believe the arrival of OpenPOWER makes it stronger. Power’s current position was established with an architecture proprietary to and controlled by IBM. OpenPOWER’s arrival changes that equation for the better. 

Let’s consider some of the way OpenPOWER is strengthened. Of course, all the usual arguments for an Open architecture apply. OpenPOWER has attracted more than one hundred companies to join the OpenPOWER Foundation[2]. All have complete access to the technology; all can design devices to attach to the technology. They can even make their own Power chips and servers as already announced by several Chinese[3] companies (PowerCore, Zoom Netcom, ChuagHe, etc.). All  member companies, universities, and non-computer vendors e.g. Google, can contribute to evolving the architecture to meet their needs. 

Additionally, the situation in the Supercomputer arena has also changed. Past Power successes were achieved by IBM alone. Now other companies are contributing both their technology and their intellectual capital to make OpenPOWER successful. We have already seen IBM and NVIDIA collaborate to win the DOE project. In addition, other foundation companies, e.g. Mellanox and Micron. have made strong contributions to Supercomputer technology. 

How does this position OpenPOWER against the competition?  As we have seen, the key competitors at the high-end are Intel -based and Cray. Cray’s niche at the high end is not in a volume growth position. Intel is competitive across the entire space. Power’s RISC based architecture is its key advantage versus Intel.  The architecture was designed to allow hardware optimization [4]. Intel’s older, CISC-based X86 architecture carries a lot of baggage as part of its PC heritage.  A second Power advantage, Intel[5] has apparently been locked out of future supercomputers that may be constructed in China. As mentioned, Chinese companies can build Power-based chips and servers, something now no longer possible for Intel.

In summary, OpenPOWER begins with a strong, established position in the Supercomputer space. It can build on this momentum. In combination with the intellectual property of foundation members should easily give future products an advantage over the closed, proprietary systems they must compete with.


[1] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOP500  and http://www.top500.org/
[4]The first modern RISC system , the IBM 801,was  developed by John Cocke at IBM. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduced_instruction_set_computing  for a discussion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Moving ahead with Linux and Open Systems

By Rich Ptak/Bill Moran


IT staffs tend to love technology; it’s who they are. They want access to the latest technology to learn how it can be used. But outside IT, not so much. Other parts of the organization tend to focus on achieving financial, operational, performance and service delivery goals, not using technology just for its own sake. Career prospects for those perceived as pure technologists can be dim. It is also true that creating new business opportunities with technological enhancements and propositions can change that. Unfortunately, more often, the introduction of new technologies is delayed, which is not good for the individual in IT or for the organization as a whole, especially in today’s world.

Why? Simply put, it’s an explosion in the application of technology that is upending traditional business/organizational operational models which drives much of today’s success. Mobile, Big Data, IoT, open systems, etc. combine with global competition to make the data center critical to the successful resolution of 21st Century problems. It is increasingly evident that the acquisition and implementation of new technology is justified on the value it delivers to the organization.

This isn’t hype. At the recent OpenPOWER Foundation Summit[1], an international mix of technology leaders and executives from more than 113 high tech organizations told story after story of how fast-moving, innovative, and responsive IT staff in their data centers were driving organizational transformation and success. The payoff was in the solution to seemingly intractable problems in medicine, retail, research, telecommunications, mobile, etc. Driven by open-source software, led by Linux, and embodied in true open-source hardware and open systems, technical IT can exert a powerful influence as the key driver of business (enterprise) transformation.

How can you progress new technology and advance careers? One tactic is to identify a technology with a unique business value needed by your organization. An open systems example is POWER8 with Linux. A unique benefit is its ability to easily manipulate and manage very large data sets. Necessary if one is implementing applications that will generate, manipulate and analyze large amounts of data. POWER8 with Linux is a perfect fit (see examples in an upcoming blog[2]).

Become the person in your organization who identifies where a new technology’s unique features can deliver greater business value. For example, an application on Power8[3] with CAPI (an accelerator) can quickly analyze massive amounts of data to discover insights on an individual and use it to create messaging tailored to that specific user. You will need to reach out and demonstrate to the business or the operational side of the company how they benefit directly. Identify what problems are solved, e.g. improved user experience, more timely reporting, better decision making, etc. You may want to form cooperative partnerships with other groups to identify more opportunities. Being identified as the one who can leverage technology to gain a business or competitive advantage will make it easier to justify new technology and benefit your career.


[3] For more on Power8 go to http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/abstracts/REDP5098.html?Open  and download the PDF or EPUB, skip to the Architecture and Technical Overview section. Power8 material starts on page 28. The early parts of this book cover many configuration details about the IBM Power Systems S812L and S822L of interest when configuring a system. CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface), a key hardware innovation in Power8 is described beginning on page 35.

Monday, March 30, 2015

INTERCONNECT 2015 –Power8 is primed for success!

By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran



In April of 2014, IBM announced its first Power8 systems, at the same time they launched the Open Power Foundation. IBM was bringing to hardware the same open source model that had proven so successful for Linux software. The Open Source concept profoundly impacted the software industry benefiting both users and vendors. The plan was to repeat that success with a complete system. 


IBM’s Interconnect 2015 conference[1] ended recently. It included an abundance of customer stories and product announcements centered on Power8 and the Open Power architecture making this a good time to examine the systems status. We consider factors contribute\ing to Power8’s success as well as hurdles to overcome. 

We begin admitting our bias favors Power8 success, because we think monopolies distort markets. With AMD no longer a major force, Intel dominates x86-based server and PC markets. The result is stifled chip development, slowed emergence of alternative technologies, limited vendor options and reduced customer choice. Competition at the server level (HP, Lenovo, Dell, etc.) masks Intel’s monopoly of microprocessor architectures without addressing the underlying problems. 

A look back at the process by which 64 bit addressing became available to x86 customers illustrates the problem[2]. Intel originally planned to only offer 64 bit capability in a new  IA-64 line of processors; requiring customers to migrate to a new architecture. Only after AMD demonstrated that 64 bit could be added to x86 (with no migration required) did Intel follow suit.

Thus, AMD provided a choice customers otherwise would not have had. Competition drives change, innovation and dynamism in the marketplace. However, it isn’t clear how much the current non-competitive state influences server purchases[3]. Buyer specific needs probably influencer their decisions far more. Server level competition tends to conceal the level of control Intel exerts in the market. 

That said; let’s look at some key strengths and benefits Power8 brings to users and vendors:
  1. 1.     Designed for the era of Big Data, it leverages advanced technologies to enhance its ability to store, access and manipulate large amounts of data quickly and easily.
  2. 2.     Delivers enhanced support for Hadoop to better manage structured and unstructured data.
  3. 3.     Increases availability of role-based Power8-based cloud implementations, e.g. IBM’s Developer Cloud, multiple Power8 platform configurations (including bare metal) from IBM SoftLayer, etc.
  4. 4.     IBM is making the Open Power chip and firmware completely available to the public – allowing vendors, countries, individuals, etc. to redesign the chip and its firmware to meet their needs.
  5. 5.     The OpenPOWER Foundation as an open collaboration of industry users, vendors, research institutions and academia in support of Open Power is a particularly brilliant strategy.
Making the Open Power architecture available to all provides a huge market boost to Power. In particular, making the firmware publicly available means that global vendors can (and are) using the architecture without worrying about the existence of built-in backdoors. The rapid growth of the OpenPOWER Foundation to over 100 members demonstrates other companies recognize the business opportunities. OpenPOWER contributes to a surge in Power8 interest that will likely continue. 

Power8 offers a significant performance advantage over Intel servers in certain types of server consolidation. Using Power8 with CAPI, Redis Labs achieved a significant reduction[4] in required servers switching from x86. The application’s use of an in-memory database means it gains optimum advantage of Power8’s large memory and enhanced analytics. Nevertheless, the potential benefit in large data center environments appears to be substantial, even at lower ratios. There exists a clear potential for cost reductions in software licenses and such environmental items as power, floor space, and administrator time.  Thus, Power8 is likely to yield even more significant cost advantages.


Still there are challenges that Power8 must overcome in the marketplace. Perhaps the biggest is inertia. Many customers have been reflexively buying Intel x86 servers for years and may be reluctant to change. The latest IDC survey[5] reports that the non-x86 share of the server market is shrinking; even as many seem unaware that an alternative exists. The drawbacks of a non-competitive environment (higher prices, delayed innovation) have not manifested themselves in severely felt ‘pains’ limiting interest in searching for alternative suppliers. Although, there are some indications this is starting to change.


Further, some important applications do not run on Power8 Linux. For example, the popular Oracle and SQLServer databases are not available for Power8 Linux[6]. Generally, customers are reluctant to move workloads if it includes changing databases. Some work-arounds do exist, e.g. keeping the database, but using an intervening service to access that data. However, customers may be reluctant to add a service layer or may lack the in-house skills or confidence to change databases. 

Linux (on Intel) is a growing market even as Windows Server growth stagnates.  Windows Server users find Linux on Intel to be a better environment, but it has x86 limitations. Those customers are prime candidates for Power8 Linux as Linux on Intel and Linux on Power8 are near 100% compatible. While Windows Server is not a supported operating system on Power8; customers can be motivated to leave Windows. Motivation can be improved with attractive pricing, new tools that facilitate the move, greatly enhanced capabilities and features. 

Doug Balog, IBM General Manager of Power8, is convinced 2015 will be the key year for Power8. We think that he is right. There exists a very good chance that Power8 Systems from IBM and other OpenPOWER vendors will achieve a breakthrough. Customers who value competition ought to investigate Power8 to see where  it might fit into their plans and significantly benefit their applications. 



[1] http://interconnectgo.com/ Key sessions are available for replay.
[3] This is a concern for many IT staff we’ve spoken with.
[4] Yiftach Shoolman, CTO and Co-Founder of Redis described the reduction which demonstrates the value of Power8 + CAPI technology. CAPI allows flash memory to directly attach to the processor. The Power8 system here had 40TB of flash memory attached. See http://www-304.ibm.com/webapp/set2/sas/f/capi/home.html
[6] Oracle is supported on AIX.

Friday, March 27, 2015

OpenPOWER Foundation Summit – accelerating Open Systems momentum

By Rich Ptak



The OpenPOWER Foundation is an open collaboration of industry users, vendors, research institutions and academia launched with 5 members in early 2014. The goal was to build an ecosystem to cooperate in creating solutions using IBM’s OpenPOWER architecture to create the first truly open source system by combining open-source software and open-source hardware.

Fast forward to March, 2015, now 113 members strong, the first OpenPOWER Foundation Summit[1] was hosted as part of the GPU event in San Jose. As we describe here[2], Power Systems products figured prominently at IBM’s Interconnect 2015 conference[3]. The Foundation event provided even more evidence of the market momentum and growing interest in OpenPOWER.

On display were 15 working products from component level up to systems, processors, platforms and solutions. This year, Foundation members have 100 active projects already underway; both with and without direct IBM involvement. Projects are focused on High Performance Computing (HPC), data center optimization, operating system optimization, IBM’s Watson, industry-specific devices from chips to systems, etc.

There was an interesting undercurrent during presentations and discussion with attendees. Where one might expect a strong technical slant, event attendees and Foundation members see their objectives in the clearly practical terms of enterprise problem solving. The goal is successful application of the latest technology to the solution of major problems. They are driving a fundamental shift in understanding the application of and accomplished with technology.

Usually, the talk is of how Moore’s Law i.e., the cost-benefit (more performance + less volume + lower cost) applies. Here the discussion was about accelerating the realization real payoffs from technology. It is about cost effective, rapid problem solution and achievement of enterprise goals whether profit, new medical protocols, discovery breakthroughs or curing life-threatening disease.

Brad McCredie, Foundation President, indicated that while technology remains important, the value needed comes from facilitating business model innovations. The OpenPOWER architecture provides more opportunities to productively cooperate (and compete), with a new vision that opens the door to the future.

Representatives from Altera, Google, IBM, Mellanox, Nallatech, Nvidia, Rackspace, TYAN, Suzhou Power, etc. documented how the Open Systems model delivers benefits to consumers, service providers, researchers and vendors. Though hard data is still scarce, available evidence also points to significant price/performance benefits. Linley Group comparing IBM prices with reseller estimates found Power8 processors can be nearly 50%[4] lower than Xeon systems with x86 chips.

Here is a list of some of the significant products and prototypes that were announced in San Jose:

1.     Chinese companies will produce four products for their national market in 2015:
  • a.     PowerCore’s CP1 is the first POWER chip for the China market from a Chinese chip design company.
  • b.     Zoom Netcom’s new line of RedPOWER servers are the first Chinese OpenPOWER two-socket systems using the CP1 chip.
  • c.     ChuangHe and other Chinese OpenPOWER members described their designs for China-branded OpenPOWER systems using POWER8 processors.
  • d.     In 2014, the Chinese government formed a public-private partnership, China POWER Technology Alliance (CPTA) to integrate local Chinese and OpenPOWER ecosystem resources to accelerate their infrastructure upgrade.

2.     Products and prototypes planned for availability in Q2CY15 are:

  • b.     Cirrascale RM4950[7] – the first OpenPOWER-based GPU developer platform is a collaboration of NVIDIA, Tyan and Cirrascale  targeted to Big Data analytics, machine learning, and scientific computing GPU applications.
  • c.     Rackspace announced a prototype open server design[8] and motherboard combining OpenPOWER and Open Compute design with OpenStack management to deliver superior performance in their data centers.

3.     IBM and Wistron announced joint development of (codename) Firestone a prototype high-performance server using technology from NVIDIA and Mellanox. First of a series, it is part of IBM's technical computing roadmap and pathway to exascale computing.

4.     Also part of the exascale series of servers are Summit and Sierra for the U.S. government – Oak Ridge National Laboratory will house Summit at its Center for Accelerated Application Readiness (CAAR), announced 13 partner projects to begin preparing computational science/engineering applications to run on Summit.

Proven enormously successful with Linux, the open-source software concept profoundly impacted the software industry while significantly benefiting both vendors and users. OpenPOWER Foundation members have made significant progress in repeating the pattern, thereby releasing open-source system benefits. It is still too early to predict the final outcome with certainty, but signs are positive. Success will end Intel’s uncontested dominance of x86–based servers.

We’ll close with two quotes, first from Gordon MacKean, OpenPOWER Foundation Chair: “Through our members’ individual and collective efforts we are positively disrupting the market, delivering innovations that advance data center technology, expand choice and drive market efficiency.”

And one from Mr. Zhiqiang Tian, Senior Engineer, BIOS research and development, TEAMSUN: “The development of the OpenPOWER ecosystem in China’s high security level market enriches China ISV and IHV’s options for a total solution from hardware to software.”

I don’t see any way to improve on those statements. Congratulations to IBM, the OpenPOWER Foundation and all its members.



[1] See the presentations and talks here: http://openpowerfoundation.org/2015-summit/
[2] Ptak Associates Tech Blog:  http://ptakassociates.blogspot.com/
[3] http://interconnectgo.com/ Key sessions are available for replay.
[4] POWER8 Hits the Merchant Market states: "Pricing is no contest. We estimate that IBM’s 12-core Power8 will list for $2,500; add $180 or $360 for two or four buffer chips. Intel hasn’t published a list price for the Xeon E5-2699v3, but after surveying some Internet re-sellers, we estimate it lists for about $4,100." http://www.linleygroup.com/newsletters/newsletter_detail.php?num=5275