Do you know people who eat the same dish everyday?
The question may seem silly and the answer obvious. For most of us there is no doubt that our diet includes a variety of dishes. A diverse gastronomy keeps life interesting, preventing us from getting bored of the same thing, and brings us different elements for good health.
Note that some people may have answered yes—but even if you aren’t fond of change, feel free to continue reading this blog post.
In the computer industry and with hardware architectures, the answer to this question is less obvious. Customers hear many manufacturers or vendors explaining that what will help them most is an extreme simplification of their architecture:
- “use only one operating system”
- “put everything on blades”
- “no more tapes, only discs”
In short, the use of a single type of brick would simplify any infrastructure problem and is a universal solution. But one solution doesn’t fit all! Instead, we need to consider a variety of options to get smarter solutions to difficult problems.
I will try to illustrate this approach with the concept of pentominoes. This concept was developed by the mathematician Solomon W. Golomb in the mid-twentieth century in a book called Polyominoes. A domino is a polyomino of two squares, and a pentomino is a polyomino formed by adjoining five squares with one another, edge to edge. There are 12 unique ways to do this (not counting rotations and reflections):
Note that these 12 pentominoes are often denoted by letters by convention. For example, the top left is of type I and the bottom right, of type T. Also note that the rotations or reflections are reduced to a single type—for example the U-shaped part may look like a C when rotated, but is counted only once as U.
So these 12 blocks occupy an area of 5 x 12 = 60 squares.
Imagine a client wanting to pave his rectangular yard of 6 x 10 = 60 squares with pentominoes using all 12 different shapes, colors and behavior.
It’s a safe bet that the paver will probably have the common response: “Mr. Client, simplify your architecture and use only the type I blocks.”
The result is twelve pieces of type I:
Everything is the same and simple, but did we fully solve the customer’s problem? Are we taking into account all of the required specificities? The answer is obviously no. This architecture is simplified, in monocolor and all blocks exhibit the same behavior.
Mathematicians have calculated that for a rectangle that is 6 x 10 = 60 squares there are actually 2,339 possible combinations of 12 pentominoes to pave the space.
If you like puzzles, you may have fun cutting up a piece paper to build the 12 pentominoes. Then, without looking at the examples below, try to completely pave a 60-block rectangle. There is a big chance that you’ll get one of these 2,339 solutions, though it might take you a long time to build your first solution.
Here are two of the possibilities:
We therefore have 2,339 possible solutions to satisfy the customer who wants to pave his yard! And what a nice patchwork these options offer—much better than simply repeating 12 type I pentominoes, right? The concern is to find at least one architecture solution (or perhaps a set) that fits functional client requirements!
It is here that using automation, expertise patterns and unified management—all present in IBM’s smarter infrastructure capabilities—makes sense. These concepts are increasingly used, from IBM Watson to IBM PureSystems through virtualization and other unique features. Customers need to solve increasingly difficult problems without infrastructure limitations, especially in a cloud approach. So don’t fall into taking the easy route that brings only short-term solutions with limitations.
In gastronomy, the creative cook brings clever answers to difficult and complex recipes, offering a varied menu. In IT infrastructure the approach should be exactly the same. We encounter many potential problems, and only creativity, flexibility and automation will bring smart solutions. Simplification can be a goal or priority in a second step, but don’t think that a simple, monotone approach is always best.
Philippe Lamarche is currently an IBM Systems Architect in the hardware division (STG) since 1995, working with French industry customers and System Integrators. He has spent over 30 years at IBM in different technical positions. As a presales technical role he is a Certified IT Specialist at expert level. You can reach him on Twitter: @philip7787.
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