Is IBM's Blue Insight a model for your private BI cloud?

IBM has developed and private cloud for its own Business Intelligence consumers. Is it one you want to copy?

John Webster Special to CNET News
John, a senior partner at Evaluator Group, has 30 years of experience in enterprise IT storage, spanning mainframe and open systems environments. He has served as principal IT adviser at Illuminata and has held analyst positions at IDC and Yankee Group Research. He also co-authored the book "Inescapable Data Harnessing the Power of Convergence."
John Webster
3 min read

There's been a general outcry lately about how vendor marketing organizations are abusing the cloud by force-fitting many new and existing products into the cloud computing mold.

Still, some cloud-like things actually do fit without the aid of a crow bar. A case in point is IBM's Smart Analytics Cloud.

The Smart Analytics Cloud is a solution set and reference model based on an IBM-internal Business Intelligence (BI) project code-named Blue Insight, which IBM claims to be the largest private cloud built to date. Blue insight has allowed IBM to eliminate multiple BI systems that were all performing essentially the same extract-transform-load (ETL) processes for different user groups.

It combines the resources of 100-plus separate systems within IBM such that 200,000 or so consumers of IBM's BI data now have a private cloud that acts as a centralized repository. Even better, Blue Insight does in fact fit the NIST definition of a private cloud. All Blue Insight users can, given the right permissions, get access to all data within the cloud.

What IBM wants you to know is that you too can build your own private information analytics cloud--the IBM Smart Analytics Cloud. But here's where you may stop and ponder. The solution set consists of a set of BI cloud services, and Cognos 8 BI software running on an IBM z/OS mainframe. You like the concept you say, but it's the mainframe part that may have you rubbing your chin.

So let's take a step back for a minute and put what you may see as a venerable, old beast into the cloud perspective. Please read my recent post on the VMware/Cisco/EMC consortium. I chided myself for suggesting that Vblock was in fact an open systems mainframe. OK, now I'm going to come right out and say it. A Vblock is an open systems mainframe. And, while it may be the first, it won't be the only one. Hewlett-Packard says you can build one with almost all of its parts and guidance, and OracleSun will likely announce one of its own once the EU relents. So put the z/OS in that mainframe in that perspective. It already supports thousands of Linux VMs.

What IBM has done is come up with a perfect application for a private cloud. Many large company IT departments, like IBM's, have multiple BI systems all essentially performing the same ETL function for different internal BI consumer groups. What Blue Insight does for these redundant and often expensive systems is very much like what a hypervisor does for redundant application servers--it blows them away. And because these systems can run into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, the savings can be more than substantial. The question for the mainframe skeptic: is the cost savings enough to justify learning, or perhaps re-learning z/OS?

You may take some comfort from this observation: the number of new z/OS users is on the rise. Why? They run virtual machines and have been doing so for decades. The systems integration work is done. The management applications are there. And security is miles ahead of the cloud alternatives now available. No waiting for maturity to come along, all in good time. You can get it all now.

This is not a shill piece for the z/OS mainframe even if it feels like one. I'm arguing that, if you're looking seriously at consolidated private cloud platforms, due diligence says you should not dismiss one out-of-hand that has stood up over time longer than any other single IT platform.

Client/server computing was supposed to have been the the mainframe killer. It wasn't. Now those redundant servers are stacking up on the loading docks of the recyclers. Just sayin'.