Mainframe Propeller Head

Jul 28 2008   4:14PM GMT

IBM vs. Sun: The mainframe cage match

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

I must admit. As a tech journalist, it’s always fun to watch two vendors go at each other’s throats. That is what has been happening recently between IBM and Sun employees, as they argue over the virtualization benefits of the new System z10.

It all started with a column that Jon Toigo wrote in the Mainframe Executive magazine called “Enterprise Manager: Virtualize This!” Now, let’s be clear about one thing: Toigo is not fond of x86 virtualization using VMware. That was made clear in the article, and is something he’s made clear before. Last fall, he said during a Data Center Decisions conference session (TechTarget runs Data Center Decisions) that VMware is “shoddy” and full of bugs. He recommended running a mainframe instead. Not everyone at the conference agreed with Toigo’s assessment, including other speakers.

Needless to say, Jeff Savit was not impressed. A principal engineer at Sun Microsystems, Savit wasn’t convinced by Toigo’s article. In fact, he said Toigo got a lot wrong:

If you stipulate that another platform can run only 1/4 the work that it can actually run, and omit the very substantial costs on the other platform – z, and believe grossly exaggerated claims about its capabilities, and fail to mention features of other platforms that provide comparable or superior features that z cannot do (VMotion anyone?), well, you’re going to be a few orders of magnitude off.

That set off people in the comments space, one of which was Toigo, who said he would get to the bottom of some of the claims he made in the article, such as being able to virtualize up to 1,500 x86 servers using the mainframe’s LPAR technology. The mainframe can host thousands of virtual servers, but within z/VM, not LPARs, as Mark Post wrote in the comment section of Toigo’s article. Post is an engineer at Novell who focuses on zLinux.

In addition to reading the comments to Savit’s post, you’ll also want to read a post by Tony Pearson, an IBM storage consultant, and the comments that went with that, as well as the most recent addition to the literature, a post by IBM senior IT architect Joe Temple, over at the Typepad Mainframe blog.

And don’t forget the popcorn.

I suspect that readers of this blog will tend to side with the IBMers, but Savit’s post is well thought out, and it’s not like he’s unfamiliar with mainframes, either. Before coming to Sun, he was a VP at Merrill Lynch overseeing their mainframe virtualization.

I think all parties provide a good example of how to properly argue over the Internet. None of them resorted to “your mother” jokes, or asking one another what they’re going to do when the 24″ pythons run wild on you. I kind of wish they did, though. But that’s just me being greedy.

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