They want us to migrate from RISC to IA, What are they thinking !?

The word comes down from on high, “I just talked to the rep of our favorite OEM.  She told me that we can replace our mainframes and older RISC systems and get great performance and reliability.  So let's make an objective to get rid of our old mainframe and RISC servers and move everything over to Intel based servers!  The ROI is compelling.  I want this done by End-of-Year”

The folks on the ground hear these words with dread, some excitement and frequent rolling of the eyes.    These are the staff that has to implement this migration.   Lots of questions arise.

  • What are the steps to moving applications from a RISC system or a mainframe to an x86 system?
  • What do we buy to replace our big servers?
    • What is the architecture of the new system like?
    • What performance requirements do we need to hit? 
      • I/O?
      • Memory?
      • CPU?
  • How do we measure our existing application requirements and map that to Intel based servers?
  • How do our old systems systems compare to the newest Xeon servers?
  • What’s the solution stack to manage and maintain our new systems?
  • How can I get the best performance out of my new Xeon system?
    • What is NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access)?
    • How do I configure the new system?
    • How do I manage the new systems?
    • Can we do this without service disruptions?
    • What are the migration options available to me?
      • How do I migrate the database?
      • How do I migrate the front end servers?
      • Do I have to re-compile everything?
        • Why?
        • Won’t the users get confused about running on a new system?
        • Do my old skills in UNIX handicap me; will I lose my job?
          • How does Linux differ from UNIX?
          • Really, how reliable are the new Intel based servers?

“Sound familiar? Yea, for me too. My name is Wally Pereira, and I’ve been around microcomputers and Intel based Servers for thirty years.   I’ve made presentations at Oracle Open World and at Intel customers across the US.

My first migration from RISC architecture to an Intel based server was in 1992 when I was part of a team tasked with moving a manufacturing system from SUN to a Sequent server running on Intel 486 processors.  (Mission Critical applications on 486 processors, you bet!) The target application was Oracle’s Manufacturing Application suite and I was the ETL expert, getting the Inventory to reconcile between the systems to a $0.15 discrepancy.  I still can’t figure out where that 15₵ went to.  But I was hooked.  I worked for Sequent Computer Systems where I leveraged my experience with Oracle’s new Financial and Manufacturing Application suites to assisting Sequent customers who wanted to move from expensive RISC systems to Intel based Sequent hardware.

Since 1992 I’ve been working for Sequent, IBM, and Intel Corporation mostly as a captive consultant, helping our customers utilize the latest hardware and get the best performance from it.  This has entailed a considerable number of migrations from older legacy platforms.  I’ve developed quite an arsenal of tools to accomplish this migration and this blog will share a lot of this experience with you.  I've given talks at Oracle Open World, 2005 & 2010 on these topics.  Maybe you saw me at Openworld 2010?

I hope you’ll find my posts useful and I invite you to contribute by asking questions and submitting your own experiences in the hopes that sharing your knowledge and experience will help us all.  For instance in future posts I’ll be covering the practical issues faced when deploying the latest Xeon – EX processors and the impact of the changes to expect when Intel releases new generations of Xeons along with the issues listed above.