Interview With IBM's Inna Kuznetsova on Big Green Linux

Recently Products Editor, James Gray, caught up with IBM's Inna Kuznetsova, Worldwide Director for IBM's Linux strategy. They discuss IBM's Big Green Linux initiative and IBM's own power-saving move to Linux on its own data center.

Linux Journal: Thank you for agreeing to speak with Linux Journal about Big Green Linux, Inna Kusnetsova. Our publication is very interested in green computing, and Big Green Linux is one of the most comprehensive initiatives we've seen in the Linux space to advocate computing that is softer on the planet. Can you please tell us about Big Green Linux?

Inna Kuznetsova: Project Big Green Linux supports the company's Big Green initiative, which was announced in May 2007. As background, the Big Green initiative is a $1 billion per year commitment that's designed to sharply reduce data center energy consumption for IBM and its clients. Big Green Linux is a drive to help IBM's clients to incorporate Linux into their IT as a way to reduce energy requirements through consolidation, load balancing, and more efficient use of resources. To show our clients the way and that we truly believe in the power of Linux and consolidation, we started with our own internal infrastructure consolidation on Linux. which is a large scale project. We also offer robust virtualization capabilities on all IBM platforms as well as energy-saving technologies and services, aimed at evaluating and reducing the energy consumption. We also contributed technologies to Linux that help to reduce how much power CPU consumes.

LJ: Where did the inspiration for Big Green Linux come from? At least some of it comes from what you've done internally do reduce power consumption, as you mentioned above, isn't that right?

Kuznetsova: The IT industry today is accountable for two percent of all anthropogenic pollution, which is comparable to what the aviation industry produces, except it's growing rapidly and is projected to double in four years. Combined with the growing cost of energy, this issue was creating more and more concern for our customers. To address this, IBM launched Project Big Green. While implementing it, we saw a special role played by Linux. By running on all IBM, as well as competitive platforms, Linux offers a fast path to server consolidation. And since Linux is developed by community rather than a commercial vendor, it offers a secure and reliable environment for such projects.

IBM trailblazed the way by starting our own infrastructure consolidation of 3900 servers out of 8200 supporting IBM infrastructure on to about 30 mainframes running Linux. In total floor space, we expect to gain approximately 85% in savings. For example, our current distributed model uses 11,045 square feet. By consolidating the servers of this same space to IBM System z, we will use only 1,643 square feet. In annual energy usage, we expect to gain 80% savings. How much is that? Let me give you an example: In terms of total energy saved, it’s enough to power for a small town for one year. We also have customers like Nationwide insurance who consolidated on Linux and reported considerable savings.

LJ: Can you share more specifics on what you learned from your efforts with your customers?

Kuznetsova: We have some real-world examples, based on our own project implementation and work we did for other customers. Nationwide insurance company, as one example, and Lawson retail chain as another, will be able to achieve reductions in floor space and spending on electricity and cooling by consolidating on Linux. Energy-wise, we expect an 80% reduction as well as 85% reduction in floor space. We learned that it is important to build a clear process of selecting workloads for consolidation and migration.

LJ: A skeptic might say that something like Big Green Linux is just a way to have good PR for LinuxWorld. Can you say that the initiative is something that has continued to grow and develop post-LinuxWorld? If so, why?

Kuznetsova: Well, I would not mind more PR for Big Green Linux in a sense that the press helps to educate customers on the possibilities that they may be missing. I'm happy to say that several of them contacted me right after LinuxWorld with the a request to help them on their own similar projects!

Seriously, it is much more than PR. First, we are continuing with our own consolidation and are on schedule. 4,000 servers have been inventoried, 500 images deployed. We're migrated many applications, such as the support for our internal Employee Charitable Contribution Campaign, and our IBM intranet working on Domino Applications Hosting Environment, financial forecasting, etc. The majority of the consolidation effort is targeted to be completed by end of 2009. Second, we continue to introduce new ways for customers to take advantage of virtualization on Linux and server consolidation. In January we announced the availability of PowerVMLx86 technology on all System p systems, allowing users to run x86 Linux applications on Linux on Power without changes. This allows customers to reduce the work significantly when transitioning from many underutilized x86 servers to a System in Linux environments. In February we announced our new powerful mainframe z10; as well as a special, lowered price for SUSE Linux as a way to encourage our customers to consolidate additional workloads. And there's more to come..

LJ: Does Big Green Linux involve partnerships with other companies?

Kuznetsova: Yes, it does. We participate in the Linux Foundations' Green Linux workgroup. We work closely with our strategic Linux distribution partners, Novell and Red Hat, to provide advance virtualization capabilities on all our server platforms, since the ability to virtualize the environment, run multiple applications simultaneously, fully utilize underlying advantages of various hardware platforms, such as Live Partitions Mobility on System p are key to a successful consolidation. Another area for collaboration is the availability of ISVs applications on Linux on System p and z. Two years ago we launched a program called Chiphopper that provides technical and marketing help for ISVs willing to move their x86 Linux applications to a higher platform and since then have 'graduated' about a thousand of applications.

LJ: How does a large organization like IBM keep an initiative like Big Green Linux moving forward, given its size, vast product line, etc?

Kuznetsova: The most important part of the project was developing a comprehensive project plan and management system, as well as internal business case and the cash flow analysis, based on a detailed labor analysis, migration expense, and specific server costs. We have the technical solution, education plan and operational plan in place. IBM is in a unique position now, being able to leverage what we learning to help customers with similar projects.

In terms of virtualization capabilities and consolidation support on Linux, we see an overwhelming support across the company. IBM Linux is embraced by all hardware and software product lines as a source of growth. Our commitment to reduce energy consumption is another fundamental element of the strategy. Putting these two together just requires an alignment across product groups and a good management system for staying on track, from revenue goals and top management reviews to regular interlocks between development and business strategy, which is a part of my team's mission.

LJ: To what extent does Big Green Linux leverage tools such as virtualization, PowerTop and the tickless kernel?

Kuznetsova: Virtualization is the cornerstone of Big Green, since it is a key for server consolidation, especially on higher platforms, such as System p or mainframes, since that's what drives the most energy savings. While virtualization tools exist on many OSes, there is a Linux specific to it: making sure that IBM customers take a full advantage of Novell and Red Hat virtualization capabilities on System x and in parallel.

LJ: What has been IBM's contribution to the tickless kernel?

Kuznetsova: Last year we contributed the technology for scaling the CPU clock speed and voltage, as well as extending time if keeping an idle CPU in tickless mode, all developed at IBM's Linux Technology Center. This enhancement shows up in kernel version 2.6.21 and later.

LJ: What other technologies and strategies does IBM have for improving power consumption in the data center?

Kuznetsova: Here a few examples from hardware, software and services. Rear Door Heat Exchanger is a five-inch deep cooling door that utilizes chilled water to dissipate heat. Water is much more efficient than air in heat removal - over 50% more. It is now available across most IBM systems. IBM's Active Energy Manager software allows to collect and report energy consumption and system thermal data, turn off inactive cores and restore energy when needed - as well as capping energy spending and operation at reduced energy usage when workload and/or policy allows. It was originally designed from IBM BladeCenter and System x has recently become available across IBM systems including Linux. Energy metrics can be further used by IBM Tivoli applications for correlation with other data, such as workloads to perform analytics and chargeback. And we offer two new types of services to help customers to evalute and reduce energy:server consolidation efficiency study and data center energy efficiency assessment - as well as world-class support for Linux deployments.

LJ: You also have something at IBM called Project Big Green. How do Big Green Linux and Project Big Green interrelate?

Kuznetsova: Project Big Green is the major IBM initiative, with our Big Green Linux representing one key element of the overall project. It is about leveraging Linux to move consolidation forward faster and, at the same time, making sure that Linux users get the full benefits of Project Big Green regardless of which IBM platforms they have.

LJ: What would you say is the most significant element of Project Big Green regarding impact on power consumption?

Kuznetsova: I'd say server consolidation. That becomes possible because of the virtualization capabilities of all IBM platforms, and that will drive the most savings.

LJ: Of course we all love saving money, which is a great motivation to save power. Do you have any indication that your customers see saving power, as thus reducing an organization's environmental footprint, as a moral issue, as well?

Kuznetsova: This obviously varies from company to company, person to person. While some people just look at the bottom line, the number of executives and shareholders striving to establish their companies as good corporate citizens is also growing. Here is one interesting observation. Virtualization and server consolidation approach are not always welcomed by 'line of business', the IT department's internal clients. They are often billed internally and feel a concern about the inability to 'hug their own server'. Being far from IT technology they may not appreciate - or even trust - the fact their application runs on a virtual server. The energy spending reduction often happens to be the argument that wins peoples hearts and makes it easier for them to accept not just the new model, but also the operational changes it drives.

LJ: Thank you so much for joining us for this interview and for your interesting responses, Inna! Good luck with Big Green Linux and all of your efforts at IBM!

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James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal

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