IBM widens data analytics fleet

Smartie boxes multiply

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IBM has expanding its lineup of appliances for data analytics.

Big Blue's Systems and Technology Group, which designs and makes servers, and its Software Group, which codes systems software for those machines as well as for those from Big Blue's competitors, are broadening the cross-group Smart Analytic Systems for real-time data analytics with the addition of mainframe and x64 variants of the platform.

Today, the company is also packaging up its PureScale database clustering software with its WebSphere middleware and new Power7-based systems to create what it is calling the PureScale Application System.

The Smart Analytics Systems for data warehousing and analytics and the PureScale appliances for online transaction processing aim to make it easier for customers to deploy and Big Blue to sell clustered systems, which offer much more scalability than big SMP iron at a more competitive price for a unit of work done. They are also, not coincidentally, designed to blunt the attack Oracle launched last summer on big iron with its Exadata V2 clusters. The Exadata machines match Sun x64 servers and flash and disk storage with Oracle database and clustering technology to create a parallel system that Oracle says is equally good for doing data warehousing and OLTP workloads.

IBM, by contrast, still thinks that these very different workloads require two different systems and hence the two different products from Big Blue.

The Smart Analytics System setups announced last July were based on clusters of the company's Power 550 midrange machines, which use its dual-core Power6+ processors, DS3500 midrange disk arrays with Fibre Channel links to the server nodes and plain old Gigabit Ethernet switches from Juniper. The servers ran IBM's AIX 6.1 operating system, General Parallel File System, DB2 V9.5 database, and InfoSphere Warehouse 9.5.1 data warehouse. Cognos 8 business intelligence and analytics software runs on some of the nodes - IBM offered versions with 7, 14, and 27 nodes with 25, 50, and 100 TB of user space.

The plan was to give the Smartie machines predictive analytics at some point in the future thanks to the acquisition of SPSS, which IBM accomplished on the same day the Smartie system was announced with a bag stuffed full of $1.2bn in cash. These initial Power 550-based versions of the Smartie systems shipped at the end of September last year, and thus far, SPSS software is not part of the stack.

Today, IBM is fleshing out the Smartie lineup with two more setups, one based on its System z mainframes and the other based on its System x x64 servers. The mainframe version is called the Smart Analytics System 9600, and it is based on a System z10 Business Class (BC) midrange mainframe with two logical partitions in a base configuration. The Smartie 9600 is available in six different configurations, ranging from small to extra extra large, using the shirt sizes that IBM is increasingly using to describe its Smartie and PureScale machines.

That base Smartie 9600 has z/VM for managing partitions and puts IBM's z/OS operating system in one partition and Linux on another. The z/OS partition is equipped with the DB2 for z/OS database in its Value Unit Edition (which means less expensive than it might otherwise be outside of this bundle) for databases scaling from 1 to 100 TB in size. IBM is also tossing in a license to its DB2 Utilities Suite for managing and tuning the database.

The Linux partition runs Cognos 8 analytics and InfoSphere Warehouse; these are the special mainframe Linux editions of those programs. This partition is capable of doing the analytic work for between 5 and 10,000 users, depending on how many processors in the System z10 box you dedicate to it. The bundle includes some base DS8000 storage arrays as well, but does not include the Linux license, which you need to buy separately from Red Hat or Novell.

Bernie Spang, director of product strategy for database software and systems at IBM, said the company is not announcing prices yet for the Smartie 9600, but did say this setup would be shipping at the end of this quarter. Spang also added that if customers have spare capacity on their existing z10 mainframes, they could plunk the Smartie 9600 stack on them and just pay the software and services part of the bill. The Smartie 9600 price, whatever it turns out to be, includes installation and configuration of the software.

The Smartie 5600 is the System x variant of the business analytics and optimization machinery, and it is based on a cluster of System x3650 M2 machines. Just in case you are wondering, these two-socket machines were announced in early 2009 sporting Intel's quad-core "Nehalem-EP" Xeon 5500 processors. These boxes can be equipped with the new six-core "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600s, which came out in mid-March; IBM did not see fit to use its much flashier (and more expensive) System x rack servers based on the new eight-core "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500 processors from Intel and its own eX5 chipset.

You might be wondering why IBM went with System x rack servers instead of BladeCenter blade servers with the Smartie 5600. Our guess? Blades are more expensive, and the whole point is to get a bundled system together to do analytics and racks are an easier sell (both to customers and through partners) than blades.

The Smartie 5600 machines support Linux and are equipped with DS3400 midrange disk arrays for storage. On the software side, the Smartie 5600 includes InfoSphere Warehouse Enterprise Edition and Cognos 8 data analytics.

We know what you are thinking: Didn't IBM just slap Cognos 8 onto its existing InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse D5100 systems and put a new brand on it? Well, yes. And, with the Smartie 5600, IBM is allowing the option of adding solid state disks from Fusion-io to boost database performance. IBM says that sprinkling Fusion-io SSDs into the Smartie 5600 can boost the performance (in terms of I/O throughput) by a factor of four. The Smartie 5600 system has has three times the storage capacity and two times the query performance of the InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse D5100. Presumably including the effect of flash.

Sun and Oracle are big on the flash with the Exadata V2 machines - and rightly so, given the performance boost and reduced heat and space flash has over traditional disk storage.

The Smartie 5600 will be available on April 13. Pricing information was not available at press time.

IBM added that it will eventually debut a Smartie 7600 system based on Power7 servers, and given the machines Big Blue used in the original Smartie boxes from last summer, it stands to reason that the four-socket Power 750 machine announced in early February.

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