Riding LinuxONE Systems in the hybrid cloud

Alf Thunberg often rides a motorcycle to the office. He repairs his two motorcycles himself, and rides the vintage bikes to work, wearing his helmet and a business suit. He’s taking an all-in-one approach to his daily travels, reducing unnecessary costs wherever possible. He applies the same approach to deploy client applications on scalable data center infrastructure while reducing the customer’s operational costs. It’s all part of his practical, and efficient, approach to life and to work.

Thunberg is a manager at HCL Technologies, an IT services company with two data centers in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company has a charter to support a wide variety of customers in a cost-effective manner. Some customers require that their existing enterprise applications be hosted. In other situations, customers want HCL Services to provide scalable cloud services. While no two customers are alike, they all demand consistency, predictability and security from their partner. Customers also expect HCL to help them rethink their IT strategy by modernizing the way they leverage IT services to become more competitive.

HCL Services’ data centers have to be robust enough to support its very large customers from a variety of industries including banking, insurance, manufacturing and retail. While these industries are different, all of HCL’s clients tend to want the same thing: to support the way their customers want to connect–whether that is through web, mobile, or kiosk-based applications. All of these workloads are running on a pair of IBM LinuxONE systems housed in twin data centers near Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, known for its Volvo cars and its well-respected university.

The open source requirement

Open source technologies like Linux, Docker and Kubernetes have emerged as ways HCL can support a wide range of customer expectations. HCL clients are leveraging these open source tools presumably because of their extensive and collaborative communities filled with highly skilled and creative developers. In addition, by leveraging open source technologies, HCL’s customers are not locked into specific vendors and gain the advantage of portability.

HCL clients are creating both traditional enterprise applications and more modern, cloud-first applications. Once deployed, these new workloads run side-by-side with enterprise applications in the HCL data services platform.

Scalability

Using the scalability of the LinuxONE platform, HCL’s data centers are able to take on the demanding tasks of hosting the hybrid cloud and still have capacity left over. Rather than scaling out, which might require HCL to purchase additional servers (and additional server management), the LinuxONE platform is designed for scaling up compute resources. Thunberg’s organization is able to scale quickly without application disruption as it adds additional compute resources to meet escalating demand.

“The thing that one notices is the scalability,” Thunberg said. “Instead of implementing and needing to manage 50 separate X86 virtual servers, you can run your Linux applications on one or two virtual guests on LinuxONE servers. It’s a lot easier to manage, and we have found that the quality goes up because there are fewer instances.”

If more compute power is needed, IBM offers a LinuxONE-based cloud service designed for HCL to provision more compute services on demand. “You can have capacity-on-demand, which allows you to add compute resources as you need them,” Thunberg said. “The cloud drives peaks and valleys of demand, but our experience is that the customers usually want to add resources as their business grows.”

Running many workloads on a single machine

One of the important characteristics of the LinuxONE platform that Thunberg’s department appreciates is the integration of scalability, availability and security into a single platform. This is especially important since HCL’s customers expect that their applications and private cloud services will support their increasing demands for performance, manageability and security.

Security

Security is mandatory for keeping HCL’s customer data safe and compliant with their governmental regulations and company policies. One of the key features of LinuxONE is that security has been built into the very core of the platform. For example, the platform includes IBM’s technology to enable pervasive encryption. Pervasive encryption allows LinuxONE customers to encrypt data by default without the typical processing overhead sometimes associated with software encryption. The encryption is achieved by a dedicated on-chip co-processors for hardware encryption and decryption of data.

The workloads on HCL’s LinuxONE platforms inherit a higher level of security than if they were in large clusters of small servers. In addition to benefiting from pervasive encryption, the workloads are protected through software-enforced isolation; each virtual machine and application managed within a container is isolated from other workloads. That means that applications don’t interfere with one another, which can help improve availability.

Management

Thunberg takes a practical view of computer management. Applications and databases are deployed in software containers that can be moved to available compute resources in the system, as needed. System consoles make it easy to spot operational issues and potential interruptions in service.

Control of the LinuxONE scale-up environment by a few system administrators is cost-and time-efficient, Thunberg said. “You can have several thousand containers running in a single virtual guest on a LinuxONE machine,” Thunberg said. To accomplish the same task in a typical scale-out environment would have required dozens of physical servers.

Gaining business value with fewer footprints

In the end, it is the efficiency of the LinuxONE design that facilitates HCL’s ability to scale up, manage and control thousands of virtual machines on one machine. The advantages to HCL’s clients are clear: faster delivery of enterprise applications and cloud services than in clusters of scale-out small servers. “We can deliver any virtual server in minutes, with applications that are up and running and ready for use,” Thunberg said. “For my customers, that’s the real business value.”

This is part two of a series of guest posts on the IBM Systems IT Infrastructure Blog about how IT leaders are innovating through novel approaches and emerging technologies.