Monday, April 30, 2007

Sign of the Zodiac

I mentioned in last week’s blog that I’d been to Mainz in Germany with IBM. The focus of the meeting was on SMB customers rather than mainframe users, although I would guess plenty of mainframe sites have a host of other boxes around the place.

One thing that surprised me was the number of horror stories they could quote of sites that had a number of x86 servers around the company, but weren’t sure quite how many there were or what the boxes they knew about actually did – ie what applications were running on it.

Before these sites could even think about virtualizing, they needed to discover what they had installed. They needed some way of discovering what boxes they owned and what applications were running on them, and they needed to do this without having to install an agent on each box to do the job – because, if you don’t know what boxes you’ve got, you can’t put an agent on them!

This is where a very clever piece of software called Zodiac comes in. This complex software can link in to other software where necessary and help a company build up an accurate picture of what’s going on where on its servers. The software will sit on the network and pick up message traffic – eg it will find a query going to a database, and find a response coming from that database.

Once a site knows where it is at the moment (in terms of hardware and software), it becomes possible to plan for a more idealized working environment and how to get to there from here – because currently there seems to be a lot of sites that don’t know where “here” actually is! Obviously, a business case needs to be built and Zodiac works with Cobra, a component that can help build a business case. This is perhaps harder for many sites than it might at first appear because as well as consolidating and reorganizing the hardware and software at a site (sites will be looking to virtualize their servers in order to use fewer of them and reduce overall costs), it also involves reorganizing people. There is strong likelihood that after the reorganization, the jobs needed to run the data centre will be different from those needed before the reorganization. Some new skills will be required and some old ones may not be needed, or two or more jobs might be consolidated because the amount of work needing to be done is reduced. These HR effects are important, and will need dealing with by companies making the change.

Steve Weeks, who heads the Zodiac project at IBM, said that they were now visiting sites that had used Zodiac for the initial inventory report and to create the business case for the migration, and who were now ready to move forward again and wanted to use Zodiac facilities a second time.

Zodiac doesn’t depend on IBM boxes being on site, it is completely vendor neutral, and will identify whatever it finds from whichever manufacturer. It seemed like a very useful product and one that I was completely unaware of before this meeting.

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