Just one month ago, while I was in Bari (a lovely city in Southern Italy) for a customer meeting, I encountered an old university friend who works in the IT department of an Italian bank.
Because we were both free for dinner, he suggested eating together at a restaurant on the seafront of the city, a wonderful idea to forget the long workday and talk about the old college times. “Unfortunately” we ended up talking about my job, which triggered an interesting discussion about cloud computing.
His initial idea was very clear: “Just marketing hype.” He looked therefore rather suspicious when I pointed out that cloud computing had something to do with the fish and wine we were enjoying and I started telling about the University of Bari.
University of Bari is one of southern Italy’s premier educational institutions, with 12 faculties offering degrees in a wide range of subjects. To help sustain the development of the local economy, the university has recently worked with IBM to design a comprehensive IT transformation that uses IBM System z mainframe and cloud computing to deliver services to the local community, allowing multiple entities to use heavy-duty computing power at minimal cost.
Trying to impress my old mate, who was wondering about the relationship between cloud computing and our dinner, I focused on the fishermen case study: Using a touch screen installed on fishing boats, the cloud-based solution allows them to immediately determine demand in local fish markets; in particular they can enter the type of fish just caught and start a virtual auction with wholesalers on the docks. If the price is acceptable, the system automatically provides the necessary distribution between boxes to be packed before the boat arrives at the pier.
The fishermen case, anyway, is just one of the scenarios addressed by the IBM solution, which actually provides a wider set of cloud services to local community and university students:
- Open Source CRM
- Virtual Client
- Logistic, Fish Market, Wine
- LAMP for Development
- LAMP for Production
My friend looked more interested, and asked me about PaaS services. On the one hand, computer science students can easily access virtual environments running the software their teacher assigns them for education. Cloud computing allows teachers to change platforms without changing the underlying infrastructure: When the course terminates, the environments are freed up to be re-used by other courses, minimizing costs. On the other hand, students and university staff can use the available platforms (including middleware such as Apache, Tomcat, MySQL, and PostgreSQL, and development platforms such as Python, Ruby and PHP) to develop services for the local community.
From the technological standpoint, the solution is based on:
- IBM System z9 Business Class server with three Integrated Facility for Linux processors, which can support hundreds of Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server virtual machines
- IBM System Storage DS6800 disk systems
- IBM Tivoli Service Automation Manager to automate the key processes around service requests, automated deployment and management of standardized virtual server images
- IBM Tivoli Monitoring to detect situations on zLinux systems that can cause degraded performance
- IBM Tivoli Omegamon to monitor workloads, response times and LPAR reporting and to view reports on z/VM and Linux usage of resources such as CPU utilization, storage, mini-disks and TCP/IP
The following picture shows the architecture that allows Tivoli Service Automation Manager to manage the z/VM platform.
Tivoli Service Automation Manager communicates through SSL to the z/VM network (VSWITCH). Tivoli Provisioning Manager (part of Tivoli Service Automation Manager) workflows are run on Tivoli Service Automation Manager server, and consequently, z/VM and Linux-specific provisioning steps are passed to the MAPSRV Linux guest. MAPSRV acts as a central point of control, executing z/VM commands directly or passing VM SMAPI commands to the VSMSERVE z/VM service machine through RPC.
When the waiter finally brought the dessert, my friend was less skeptical; probably he was not going to ask his company to invest on cloud the following day, but at least he wanted to learn more about it. He tried guessing the main benefits for the local economies:
- Decreased time-to-market
- Reduced transportation costs
- Reduced amount of wasted products and improved product quality
I could not avoid highlighting the potential further benefits of cloud computing for small businesses in general:
- Simplicity, because complexity is managed by the cloud provider
- Accessibility, because requested services can be accessed from anywhere with separate devices
- Flexibility, because no large investment is needed, allowing quick changes according to changed business needs
Luckily, when “amaro” (digestive liqueur) and coffee arrived, we were talking about college days again.
P.S.: If you ever happen to eat in Bari, do not miss the “Tiella,” a typical dish made of rice, potatoes, and mussels.