City operations can be a very challenging business: threats to the health, safety and well-being of a population center come in many sizes, shapes and forms.
I’ll admit that the chances of a green, 167-foot tall, fire-breathing monster being one of them are quite slim; but there are certainly plenty of events, both natural and man-made, that can require the same type of municipal response. In times of crisis, huge amounts of information have to be collected, analyzed and coordinated among a diverse set of agencies in order to best serve the population.
Governments all around the world, at all levels, are looking to produce better outcomes for their citizens by making better-informed decisions, being more proactive in addressing their needs and doing so as efficiently as possible.
This is why we IBMers are so focused on our Smarter Cities initiative; we believe that our technology can better position leaders to manage the needs of those they lead.
In a smarter city, city operations are built on an underlying infrastructure that is able to integrate data visualization (a unified view of what resources are needed and available), near real-time collaboration (sharing of information as quickly as possible across agency lines) and deep analytics into an executive decision-making dashboard. IBM Intelligent Operations Center (IOC) provides this essential backbone for city operations.
On February 5 of this year we made IOC available on System z. To get some “insider” perspectives on why IOC on the mainframe was an important announcement, I rang up my colleague Tim Durniak, who is the IBM Systems & Technology Group CTO for Public Sector and an Executive IT Architect.
According to Tim, IOC basically implements an integration pattern of things that are normally siloed; in other words, it aggregates lots of events to present a single view of operational interest. In this light, the main requirements of the infrastructure are that it be secure, elastic, resilient and efficient. Let’s dig into these areas a little deeper.
Protecting citizen data
Data is most efficiently analyzed when it is all in one place. The danger of consolidating data, especially in an environment as heavily regulated as government, is the temptation for hackers to break in. System z maintains a fully integrated security model beginning on the bare metal and running through the hypervisor, operating system, middleware and database—all the way to the application. This kind of protection runs far deeper than a firewall!
In fact, System z holds the highest internationally approved security standard certification level possible for a commercial-grade platform: EAL5 from the Common Criteria organization. No other commercial platform is so certified. Deploying IOC on the mainframe allows individual agencies to maintain the isolation necessary to protect citizen information while also supporting analytics to be performed on a consolidated, single source of secured data.
Stretching without breaking
Governing is a very dynamic exercise in being prepared for the unexpected; for example, I’m reasonably certain that the governor of the central Russian region of Chelyabinsk never prepared for the contingency of a meteor strike.
Tim pointed out to me that IOC is built around a dynamic programming pattern, where events trigger rules, which can then trigger workflows, which in turn generate lots of data to be analyzed. A city operations dashboard can change from tranquility to chaos in less time than it takes to say “убегать” (run away)!
The System z architecture was designed to handle dynamic events, and features such as Capacity on Demand allow emergency capacity to be brought online immediately and automatically, and later quiesced, with no disruption of service and at minimal cost. The key here is to base your city operations platform on a central view of secure data and tie elastic compute capacity around it. You just can’t do this efficiently in a highly decentralized, clustered architecture.
Snapping back from adversity
Everything man-made will eventually fail or break. There’s no avoiding it. The real test of a system is how resilient it is in the face of failure.
Tim likes to use this year’s US sporting event called the Super Bowl as an example of resiliency. Even if you’re not a fan you may have heard that the game had to be delayed for 34 minutes due to a power outage. While many people questioned why it took so long to get the lights back on, anyone with knowledge of complex systems understood that the problem went far deeper than just illumination. A wide variety of components—the lights, the teletypes, the communications gear and all sorts of support systems—had to be brought back online, in a particular sequence, for the game to resume. Thirty-four minutes is actually pretty good for a set of systems as complex as those at the Superdome!
Now picture this: it would be practically unheard of for a mainframe environment to be unavailable for 34 minutes! There are so many options for business continuity and disaster recovery (see, for example, what can be done with Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex) that even serious IT problems—like a fire-breathing monster smashing a data center—would barely cause city operations to miss a beat. The level of resiliency built in to the mainframe is not even a consideration with most non-mainframe IT shops.
A game is just a game. What would happen if your city operations dashboard was unavailable to you in a time of crisis?
Keeping costs low
You might, possibly, be able to come close to a mainframe’s level of elasticity and resiliency with enough spending on spare capacity sitting idle, just waiting for those rare occasions where it might be needed. It’s pretty clear, however, that very few governments on this planet have unlimited resources to spend. And when agency budgets are as independent as the services that they provide, there must be a low cost to joining any consolidated city operations play. It’s not just about getting the job done; it’s about getting the job done efficiently.
The nature of IOC, with its dynamic programming model and widely disparate processing requirements, makes it perfectly suited to a highly virtualized “cloud” deployment model. Here again is an area where the mainframe shines. The technology of IOC is rooted in Linux images, and the modern mainframe can manage and monitor thousands and thousands of Linux virtual machines. The price is right, too: the zEC12 is able to deliver a virtual Linux server for under $0.70 per day* (visit the Linux on IBM System z pages for good resources on the cost of System z virtual Linux servers).
In this blog post I’ve focused on crisis events that cause “spiky” processing patterns, but city operations must also move forward effectively and efficiently during the normal day-to-day. Municipal officials must also be able to plan for more mundane, insidious events—changes that occur over the course of years, not hours. Aging populations, shifting demographics and economic downturns all put the same stresses on city operations—just at a slower pace. With System z you can start very small and grow very, very large—at your own pace. As you confront a population that is increasingly demanding mobile access to citizen-centric services, the mainframe puts you in a position to focus on the lowest cost per service, as opposed to the lowest cost per infrastructure component.
Today’s mainframe is truly positioned as the city server of choice. And with a mainframe running your city’s operations dashboard, should Godzilla ever visit your neck of the woods, you’ll be ready.
* Based on US Enterprise Linux Server pricing. Pricing may vary by country. Model configuration included 101 IFL cores running a mixed workload averaging 60 virtual machines per core with varying degrees of activity. Includes zEnterprise hardware and z/VM virtualization software. Does not include Linux OS or middleware software.
*Monster illustration by Christina DiMarzio
Paul DiMarzio has over 25 years of experience with IBM focused on bringing new and emerging technologies to the mainframe. He is currently part of the System z Growth business line, with specific focus on cross-industry business analytics offerings and the mainframe strategy for the insurance industry. You can reach Paul on Twitter: @PaulD360
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