Approaching x86 Consolidation

Exploring the potential of mainframe-based centralisation

Published/updated: January 2010

by Freeform Dynamics

All IT initiatives need an objective view of requirements and choices on offer to meet performance and cost objectives. This guide explores x86 server consolidation for Linux-based workloads via a method you may not have thought a natural choice, but with the right mix of environment and requirements, may offer ‘another way’.


Virtualisation plus consolidation equals choice. A focus for many organisations is the consolidation of existing x86 server estates via virtualisation. Workloads can be moved into virtual machines which in turn can take advantage of the features of more modern hardware. But what is such hardware? Many would think about racks of gleaming new servers or blades, but other platforms exist. For Linux-based workloads specifically, a valid consolidation option is to take a centralised approach using mainframe technology.

Mainframe technology brings a centralised approach ‘out of the box’. Today’s mainframe technologies may not be ‘as you thought you knew them’. The use of offload engines mean specific types of workloads can be run in a modern environment which brings with it the traditional benefits of the mainframe: reliability, availability and security – the pre-requisites for managing a virtualised environment. Other attributes of note are the scalability and centralised resource management inherent in this platform, while costs for incremental workload addition are particularly low. Favourable ‘per core’ application software licensing terms can also be achieved.

The centralised, mainframe based approach provides another option for consolidation. However it is clearly not the only option. To determine whether it fits with your IT strategy and requirements you need to understand what you’re trying to consolidate. Not all x86 workloads will be appropriate for consolidation into a centralised virtual environment. Many are however, with Linuxbased workloads forming a key group. Focusing on the cost-benefits, performance requirements and the importance of a workload to your business will help build an objective view of the value this approach may offer.

Cost-effectiveness depends on factors to consider before and after deployment. These include power and space; available skills and training; licensing and ISV support including for Linux; and a number of non-technical criteria, e.g. systems ownership and its impact on both consolidation and the provisioning of virtual machines. It is important to ‘run the numbers’ for the spectrum of acquisition and operational costs associated with your consolidation activities, regardless of the target platform.

A review of your computing environment will help you make an informed choice. Analysis of areas such as existing capacity and the nature of the workloads you run will help address many of the questions that should be asked to get you into a position to assess whether this approach to consolidation is appropriate to your needs. In particular, organisations that already have mainframes in place may see an opportunity to make better use of the platform. Buying in new mainframe capacity should not be ruled out; rather, it should be weighed up along-side the costs of the alternatives.

This guide is based on a number of research projects carried out in the last 12 months, all of which were designed and interpreted on an independent basis by Freeform Dynamics. The guide is sponsored by IBM.

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