Merrill Lynch building toward stateless data center

Advantages include shared utilities, cost reductions

Financial giant Merrill Lynch is building a stateless data center where it can dynamically combine capacity with operating system and application components to meet its computing needs in real time.

"What we want to get to is someone who comes in and says 'I need X amount of capacity, I need it for this amount of time, I need it 24 by 7 or I need 20 minutes of capacity and at the end of the month I need 100 units of capacity' as opposed to 'I need X number of servers'," said Jeffrey Birnbaum, managing director and chief technology architect at Merrill Lynch. "This is the shared utility computing model. It is moving away from the dedicated [server or desktop] idea."

Birnbaum made his remarks during the opening keynote address of the LinuxWorld/Next Generation Data Center conference that opened Monday.

He said stateless and cloud computing have some overlap and that stateless will intersect with the cloud. He added that for too long that state has been closeted in individual servers and desktops, which has directly contributed to rising IT costs.

Birnbaum said the central idea of stateless computing "is that you have made access to all applications ubiquitous by placing them in an organized file system or namespace much like the World Wide Web is a namespace."

He said it is just like using the URL gmail.com to find Google mail.

"We can do the same thing with applications even if you are talking about an enterprise," he said.

Birnbaum said Merrill Lynch is building such a namespace and file system and a set of tools to manage that namespace.

"We call it the enterprise file system but it could be called the application deployment system," he said.

Merrill Lynch has vetted the concept, but Birnbaum admitted the company is still in the development stage.

"The key to this thing is versioning. The idea is you put everything you do in an application library and you put it in this file system. So, therefore, you never have the problem of the software stack or individual execution environments. That is the wrong concept."

With all components in a version namespace companies would build applications utilizing that namespace so all the applications' dependencies can be referenced.

"Every application would know what its dependencies are and they would be serviceable through this global processing. That is a key concept," he said.

Birnbaum said Merrill Lynch has four data centers around the globe and will use a combination of replication and caching to synchronize its file system and to ensure performance.

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