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How IBM PureSystems can benefit your company

Virtualisation has revolutionised the delivery of services over the last decade. The ability to separate software environments from the hardware they are running on has provided numerous benefits. A single multi-processor unit can run multiple, even heterogeneous operating systems, which can be started and restarted independently of the underlying hardware. This has instigated the movement towards software-as-a-service that has taken place over the last few years. But whilst virtualisation can be hugely powerful, it still requires a large amount of technical know-how to configure and maintain. IBM PureSystems provides a fully integrated solution that aims to take the full benefit of virtualisation, and package it in a form that can be operated by a much wider cross-section of company employees.

PureSystems starts with the hardware, which has been specifically designed to maximise flexibility. The hardware comes in four main types, two for general-purpose usage, and two for workload-optimised deployment. The general-purpose options are PureFlex and Flex Systems.

The former is a full rack which can contain a host of integrated services, whilst the latter is a smaller chassis designed to provide everything you need in one box, although still with plenty of flexibility over components. Both can contain either X86- or POWER-based processing modules, or even a mixture of the two should you require this. For more details, and a full walkthrough of what the PureFlex and Flex Systems hardware has to offer, watch our video presentation with IBM Technical Product Manager Dave Ridley.

Moving on to the workload-optimised hardware, we have PureApplication and PureData. The former is focused on accelerating deployment of your choice of applications, whilst the latter is specifically aimed at data services, such as transactional and analytical provisions, including online transaction processing and data warehousing respectively. Unit options range from a 32-core “Mini” chassis to Large systems with up to 604 cores. For a more detailed overview of the various members of the PureSystems family, watch our overview with Chief Strategy Officer for PureSystems, John Warnants.

Whichever of these platforms fits your company's needs, however, the principal behind the system is the same, and revolves around the concept of Patterns. The traditional installation system involves a linear process of installing an operating system, then the necessary drivers, then the applications and other software you wish to use, followed by any data assets that will be required. Finally, there will probably be some further configuration required before the system can be used. This is clearly a rather involved process, and will take some time.

We haven't even mentioned the procurement process that will precede all this, both for the hardware platform required and the software that will run on it. It is possible to streamline this process somewhat using a standard disk image, and this is an effective strategy if you are rolling out multiple identical desktop workstations for end users. But if you need any new drivers or bespoke applications, you will be back in the realm of individual customised installation. Even in a virtualised server environment, a disk image can only ever be a generic collection of the key software, which may be fine for some uses, such as deploying a standard webserver, but it has very little flexibility.

The PureSystems Patterns concept provides the same sort of one-click installation as a disk image, but with a far greater level of flexibility. You can install a preconfigured Pattern from a growing library of presets. Depending on the utilisation of the underlying hardware, this can take a matter of minutes to complete, and only a few clicks will be required. There will be a few configuration options to decide upon, but deployment is so simple it can virtually be left to the end user. By attaching auditing functions to the Pattern installation, such as a departmental chargeback for its use and a set leasing period, users can obtain the resources they need for project work without the need for lengthy procurement cycles. They can be given a budget and allowed to manage resources themselves.

But the true power of PureSystems comes with the ability to build your own Patterns. You can do this at a fairly high level, specifying just a few component parts, or get right down to specifying the versions of software to be used and how the hardware in your private cloud is made up. The latter is particularly useful if you have proven compatibility between specific application and driver revisions. Creating a Pattern is a simple drag-and-drop affair, where you pull components into a configuration in the installation order desired. You can also include pretty much any shell script you want, for copying across data and configuration files.

The Pattern you create can be stored for future use by yourself or other users of your PureSystems environment. If you need to modify a Pattern, for example with a recent patch or new application version, you can simply edit the Pattern and all future installations using this Pattern will have the up-to-date versions. It's also possible monitor installed versions across your existing deployments, and update where required. You can watch a more detailed overview of the principles behind Patterns in our video with Chief Strategy Officer for PureSystems, John Warnants.

Forthcoming pieces will go into more depth as to how Patterns are experienced by administrators and end users, but here is a summary. The cloud environment of your PureSystems hardware is managed through the Flex Systems Manager, a web-based portal that lets you prepare the environment for Application Pattern deployment. You can set up the configuration of the compute nodes, including storage, I/O, boot options, and firmware. You can then monitor these nodes and deal with any issues that arise, such as BIOS and driver updates. You can set up strict or more relaxed compliance policies, and even call up a virtual view of your chassis with overlaid status information.

The next level of management comes via SmartCloud Entry, another web-based portal that turns the infrastructure you have created via the Flex Systems Manager into a private cloud. This presents a different range of options depending on whether you are logging in as an administrator or a user. As an administrator, you can define new clouds and configure users, as well as creating accounts for use in departmental charge back and projects within which to group users. You can assign virtual appliances to each project. As a user, you can merely deploy appliances from assigned projects, with a few configuration options, and these deployments will require approval from an administrator if this policy has been set. In future pieces, we will be showing exactly how the Flex Systems Manager and SmartCloud Entry portals function.

This then brings us to the unique part of PureSystems - the Application Patterns themselves. The IBM PureApplication System console provides the portal for this, and allows you to create two different types of pattern - Virtual Application Patterns and Virtual System Patterns. The Virtual Application Patterns don't give you a choice of middleware, but let you install an application with all the middleware it depends on at the same time, using a collection of Eclipse-based plugins. So, for example, you can specify an application and a database with only a few options to set, alongside a policy for handling demand.

The Virtual System Patterns, in contrast, give you much greater control over software versions and configurations, should your deployment require this. But it's still a drag-and-drop process, maintaining the ease of use found elsewhere in the PureSystems infrastructure. Again, we will be looking at the workings of the IBM PureApplication System console in detail in a future piece.

The simplicity of deployments in IBM's PureSystems can have some very real implications for your company's efficiency and costs compared to doing everything yourself in house, and not just at the deployment stage. The number of hours spent on Security and Change Management can be drastically reduced, with good savings in time spent managing capacity too. At the deployment stage, the system comes fully assembled and configured, with management software ready to run and the Pattern system available for action. You can monitor usage and scale automatically as required. The centralised nature of resources makes security far easier to control, too, and means that changes and updates can be rolled out in a very simple way. IBM PureSystems takes software-as-a-service to a new level, and this is why, since its launch in Q2 2012, over 2,300 PureSystems installations have been shipped.

PureSystems Patterns, like the hardware they run on, are based on the decades of experience IBM has providing integrated application and data server technology to companies big and small, covering every industry segment. The essence of this expertise is crystallised into Pattern components and the attendant server hardware, but now in a form that can be deployed in a flexible way by a much broader spectrum of company employees. IBM is very keen to demonstrate the power of PureSystems first hand, and provides demo rooms at its Innovation Centres around the world, including at its Hursley campus. You can request virtual access to try out PureSystems remotely at one of these centres, or come in to see the systems in action in the flesh.