ING looks to Linux server for consolidation

Isabelle Valois and her team at ING Canada know the company is going to continue growing. So much so that over the next two years, her team will likely have to install close to 60 new servers.

Valois, director for technical services for ING in Montreal, wanted to look at consolidation, possibly to a mainframe-type set up.

“The main thing that lacks in the current environment is that the more you install servers, the more resources you need to install and configure and make sure that they remain in a standard, configured way,” Valois said. “It’s difficult, or not as easy, to be able to use physical resources and CPUs when you have several pieces of infrastructure,” as opposed to one mainframe. She added it is not only easier to scale the resources and applications, but also to share those resources.

ING wanted to support Web applications, which would include Internet, e-commerce, internal Web development and all Web-based applications. The company is also moving any business that has to do with its brokers or direct clients to Web applications.

The infrastructure at ING is mostly AIX- and other Unix-based servers for now. Some of the AIX boxes were running IBM’s WebSphere, which led ING to talk to IBM about their consolidation hopes. “We had heard about the possibility of moving WebSphere on to Linux and on a mainframe, so we sat down with IBM and had different information brought to us.”

Josiane Bizien, executive client manager for finance and industry with IBM Canada in Montreal, said it looked at different solutions that would give 24 x 7 availability and increased robustness, while keeping in mind that the solution had to be a good financial alternative to adding more Unix servers.

“When the specialists got involved, they looked at the first step, which was consolidation of a distributed environment into a mainframe, and opted for a Linux orientation,” Bizien said.

Bizien, who managed the implementation from IBM’s end, said ING ended up with an eServer z900 running Linux. ING used IBM professional services to help with the implementation and the architecture.

ING is in the middle of the implementation now. The first migration of applications to the zSeries server started in January and was completed in July. Gord Palin, consulting IT specialist for IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., said the actual technology work of getting the environment established took about three months. The rest of the time has been spent getting people ready and procedures in place to be able to run something in production mode.

The z900 can hold up to 16 processors and all zSeries servers have a virtualization hypervisor – the z/VM – that enables enterprises to host virtual Linux servers that share one large resource pool.

“In a distributed architecture where you physically distribute systems, you have all the different nodes that go together to form the Web infrastructure attached via the network,” Palin said. “Whereas, if you can bring those servers together, they can be network connected virtually within an internal virtual network that exists in the z/VM hypervisor environment.”

In a traditional distributed environment, an organization that wanted to install a server would have to go and physically purchase a server and install it. With the zSeries environment, it can define a new virtual Linux server instance, and Palin said in some cases new instances can be cloned from an existing base.

The z/VM can host tens, hundreds or thousands of virtual servers, according to Palin, depending on how the machines are being used.

Valois said the virtual machine aspect of the server made it more attractive. The server is capable of scaling and ING can enable servers and put the applications on top as demand increases.

Valois said she wouldn’t be surprised if more IT shops were looking to virtual machine and Linux servers. “It’s very complex to manage large operations in the standard way. There’s always new business coming in…. If you want to do your business without always being caught up in migration, this is a good way to do that.”

She said it is more important that an organization have someone who knows virtual machine than to have a Linux expert for an implementation like this.

“You also have to make sure your applications are designed in a way that they will be implementable on that type of platform. You need to have a good operational model,” Valois said.

She hopes to have the applications currently running on the Web server migrated to the z900 by the end of the year.

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