Cloud In a Box: How PureFlex Works & What It Means for You

Sustainability planning is always on the agenda for data center managers as they decide what combination of skills and technologies will be required to manage the digital workloads and business expectations of tomorrow. Private cloud strategies have been framed by some as the silver bullet solution, enabling companies to reduce hardware expenses and gain greater flexibility without ceding complete control to an outside service provider. This promising approach does not orchestrate itself, but thanks to IBM’s PureFlex, it comes pretty close.

Before we start talking about how to implement private clouds, what is a private cloud? According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology:
The private cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers, such as business units. It may be owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises. 
Luckily for IBM i loyalists, this bridge to the future has been well drawn by IBM. With the PureSystems product line, customers can take advantage of preconfigured servers and components that deliver a unified management experience.
And how does PureSystems deliver this? In the words of Steve Will, Chief Architect for IBM i,  the PureFlex solution gives you:
Completely pre-configured infrastructure in one box. You buy your Power Systems with virtualized partition management (some IBM i, some AIX, some Linux, some WinTel) and in the same “box” it has a SAN, network switches and redundancy features all built-in and tested before it leaves the factory.
Before introducing such broad changes to the data center environment, managers will naturally want to know if the destination is worth the journey.

Meet the Family

The IBM PureSystems family is comprised of three siblings: PureFlex, PureData and PureApplication. While these assets do have some overlapping features and may hold variable value for firms, it's important to understand the unique characteristics of each before they are layered with one another.
According to IBM expert Vijay Bhadriraju, PureFlex can be viewed as Infrastructure-as-a-Service, orchestrating and hosting the root level of data center operations and laying the foundation for what is to come. The system brings compute, storage, networking and virtualization into a comprehensive console for administrators to oversee. This establishes a single touchpoint from which all maintenance tasks and upgrades can be instantly and independently provisioned. The built-in expertise also intelligently predicts resource demand to encourage robust everyday performance and long-term sustainability.
Flex engineers decided to leave pre-integrated application middleware absent from the equation, however, to give users more freedom to pick the operating system of their choice. According to Bhadriraju, this offering is aimed at more do-it-yourself application environment architects who want ultimate control. (Conversely, PureApplication comes with optimized middleware and represents more of a Platform-as-a-Service setup.)
PureData is the newest member of the family and was specifically engineered to tame the information onslaught facing many of today's business leaders. With more firms handling exponential increases in data volume and variety - and classifying greater proportions of this information as mission-critical - data center managers will appreciate database solutions designed for such demands. PureData is positioned as the "integrated, optimized, ready-to-run" platform geared for superior management of transactional workloads.
Pattern-based database deployment can be completed in a click, and growing firms can scale with literally zero planned downtime required. With the money saved on hardware, companies can finally greenlight ambitious analytics projects they've been putting off. With an effective scan rate at 128 GB/sec, curious companies can find answers faster than ever.
Rounding out the mix is PureApplication, a platform designed to support transactional web and database applications. This PureFlex complement benefits from the expertly integrated middleware that drives down cost and frees up time for administrators. With initial setup accomplished in as few as four hours in some cases, users are already getting a head start on the time-to-value curve.
Scalability is fast and intelligent as the pre-configured expertise automatically determines when an application needs to elastically expand or contract as a user base fluctuates. For example, an ecommerce vendor who finally finds their market sweet spot can go from computing hundreds of computations an hour to thousands per second with no downtime necessary for manual provisioning or upgrading. 

Understanding the Implications

While IBM i customers are not especially surprised to see Big Blue evolving ahead of data center trends, these features and benefits only make sense in context. For those wondering if PureSystems can lay the foundation for a private cloud environment, Bhadriragu believes the simple answer is yes.
First and foremost, PureFlex is wired with the converged network cloud-based workloads demand. According to PowerITPro, the traditional reliance on a mix of Ethernet, Fibre Channel and iSCSI technologies just doesn't scale to support virtual data center complexities. The compartmentalized architecture necessitates several convoluted bridging and routing techniques that often bend and break under pressure.
Converging the network exclusively onto Ethernet instantly flattens and streamlines data center communications. But even more important is the quality of this cabling. Instead of relying on "best effort" setups that can lead to dropped packets when Ethernet links are saturated, PureFlex takes advantage of "lossless" Ethernet instead. Instrumental to this optimized networking protocol is the concept of priority-based flow control (PFC).
According to PowerITPro, lossless Ethernet's true innovation is that it allows administrators to establish multiple class of service (CoS) levels to ensure mission-critical apps receive an unobstructed flow of information even as networks invariably grow congested over time. Individual flows deemed less essential can be temporarily paused so that no packet is dropped altogether. At the same time, systems can relay messages back to the previous routing point to slow down delivery and avoid overflowing pipelines.
Building off this base, PowerFlex users need only to match up with the IBM Smart Cloud Entry solution to achieve private cloud adoption. Using PowerVM virtualization tools to prepare for implementation, Smart Cloud Entry is delivered as a pre-integrated software stack and installed as a lightweight web application, according to Bhadriragu. This new self-service portal becomes the one-stop shop for event monitoring and policy enforcement tools as well as intelligent virtual workload orchestration properties such as team-specific project protocols. 
Although branded as somewhat of a starter package, the Smart Cloud Entry solution should have more than adequate functionality for most users when combined with the versatile and intuitive control of PureFlex and its siblings. So while weighing data center architecture upgrades always carries a certain level of anxiety, IBM i users should know that there is a clear and quick migration path in place to limit any operational impact and accelerate ROI.
Even with a solid foundation in PureFlex and Smart Cloud Entry, a cross-platform environment requires a tool to manage jobs which, by their nature, involve more opportunities to derail—especially if they are scheduled by time and not in response to a dependency. That's where Robot Schedule Enterprise can help. The automated, custom-scripting scheduler gives you event-driven power across PureFlex platforms IBM i, Linux, and Windows. To see how it can complement your private cloud strategy, try Robot Schedule Enterprise free for 30 days