Linux Mainframe to Form Core of ‘Virtual Grid’ Research Lab

Looking to harness the virtual machine software of IBM’s mainframes, the
electrical and computer engineering department at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, has picked an IBM z800 mainframe running Linux as the heart of its new grid research project.

The sale marks a milestone for IBM: the lab is the 1,000th customer of the z800, which is IBM’s entry-level mainframe.

Big Blue is calling that one of the fastest product launches in the history of the IBM mainframe.

Pricing for the z800 series, which began shipping in March of last year, starts at around $200,000, or roughly a quarter of the price of IBM’s z900 mainframes.

The University’s Advanced Computing and Information Systems (ACIS) laboratory will combine the z800 with a 32-node IBM eServer xSeries cluster running VMWare and Linux, backed by a 3.36 Terabyte IBM Shark storage server, into a grid which will be used by scientists and engineers around the world for research in nanotechnology and computer science.

VMWare and IBM’s own z/VM virtualization software play a key role in the grid, according to University of Florida professor Josi Fortes, one of the project heads.

“The z800 makes use of highly efficient z/VM virtualization capabilities and supports Linux-based environments and applications,” he says. “This played a determining role in our decision to deploy IBM technology and seek NSF funding to acquire the machine.”

The project will also use middleware developed by the ACIS lab, which it calls “In-VIGO,” indicating that it enables scientific simulations and design to take place In Virtual Information Grid Organizations.

The virtualization capabilities of the z800, will “allow the mainframe to be shared for use by multiple researchers, each with separate and distinct applications on a single piece of hardware,” says Erich Clementi, IBM’s general manager for eServer zSeries.