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EFiS EDI Finance Service AG, headquartered in Dreieich, Germany, is a leading service provider to the financial services industry. The company specializes in national, European and global financial solutions, processing payments for many banks and seven of the 30 largest enterprises in Germany. The company achieves annual revenues of 10 million euros and annual growth of approximately 10%, on average.
As member of the Paymentgroup with more than 25 years of experience in the industry, EFiS has built up both trust and a reputation for continuous innovation, delivering new products and services to address the ever-changing business needs of banks and corporations. At the moment, EFiS is focused on creating cutting-edge solutions to streamline payment logistics.
As EFiS EDI Finance Service AG was growing, it needed to spin up more and more physical and virtual servers. To simplify its IT environment and reduce operating and energy costs, EFiS implemented SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System z on an IBM zEnterprise 114 server. This cut the number of physical servers from 200 to just one and saved 30% in energy costs, while accelerating deployment and increasing application performance.
In a highly competitive market, EFiS needed to reduce its operational costs. Given the strictly regulated environment in which it works, with transactions coming in around the clock, EFiS was looking for an efficient platform for its core systems without compromising on reliability, security or performance.
Armin Gerhardt, CEO at EFiS EDI Finance Service AG explains, “Stability is paramount to our customers. They expect round-the-clock availability and fast transaction processing at any time.”
During years of rapid business growth, sluggish deployment processes in combination with limited scalability and flexibility had slowed down business development. Ulrich Buch, CTO at EFiS EDI Finance Service AG says, “We were running our software solutions on approximately 200 separate physical servers. The sheer number of systems became difficult to manage and constantly increasing electricity costs threatened our competitiveness.”
Equally, the 200 servers were heating the server room, so EFiS soon would have needed to install additional cooling systems, increasing operating costs further. With encryption becoming more and more important across its entire product range (including major Java applications), EFiS needed to add computing capacity to maintain its high performance levels, because of the lack of enterprise-ready hardware acceleration on its commodity x86 hardware and Sun servers.
"We selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as our strategic operating system because it is widely available across platforms and it is a certified system that helps us comply with the strict regulations in the financial services industry."
Selecting SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System z
EFiS was looking for a proven solution to address its pressing business challenges. When IBM presented its unique Enterprise Linux Server based on IBM System z mainframe technologies, running the industry-leading SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for System z, the EFiS team decided to evaluate this system architecture more closely. Gerhardt says, “In 2001, IBM invited us to their development lab in Böblingen and together with specialists from IBM, we started porting our applications to this new platform and began testing.”
Buch adds, “We were surprised how easy it was to move our applications to this completely different architecture. After the first few test runs, we were overwhelmed by the excellent performance of SLES for System z on IBM System z.”
Soon after the tests were completed, EFiS decided to replace its distributed server environment with a compact and highly efficient Enterprise Linux Server. Today, EFiS runs its custom-developed transaction processing platform on just one IBM zEnterprise 114 server with four Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processors.
By deploying SLES for System z, EFiS is able to leverage its existing Linux knowledge and still take full advantage of the highly reliable IBM System z hardware. Buch says, “We selected SLES as our strategic operating system because it is widely available across platforms and it is a certified system that helps us comply with strict regulations in the financial services industry.”
Premium reliability and easy disaster recovery
While the company has experienced no unplanned outages since moving to the Enterprise Linux Server platform, EFiS has established an advanced backup and recovery concept to ensure business continuity for its transaction processing platform. The private cloud-in-a-box architecture makes it easy to move from a primary system to a secondary system as needed.
EFiS is running an IBM zEnterprise BC12 server with four IFL processors as its secondary system. All processed transactions are synchronized to this backup system, so that in the event of an error, the backup system can take over immediately. Where required, additional compute resources can be activated using the Capacity on Demand feature of System z to process transactions even faster than during standard operations on the production server, minimizing the impact of potential downtime.
In addition to the second IBM zEnterprise machine, EFiS also runs a second and third backup system from two different vendors based on the x86 processor architecture with 48 processors each. As with the backup IBM zEnterprise server, the x86 systems also synchronize completed transactions only to reduce the processing and cooling overhead required for this advanced disaster recovery concept.
Finally, EFiS set up its previous production systems, an IBM System z10 and an IBM System z9, at a second location 150 km apart from the main data center site to provide a full off-site backup data center in case of a major physical disaster at its primary site; for example, a plane crash.
Gerhardt explains, “With SLES we have built a highly reliable backup solution that allows us to ensure business continuity for our customers. We can recover quickly if an incident happens, even across different system architectures. We have configured our backup system to be even more powerful than our production server, so that, in the event that an incident slows down processing, we can switch to the backup machine and still complete all transactions within the required time objectives.”
High performance and compact footprint
EFiS runs three production SLES instances on the IBM z/VM hypervisor to provide its transaction processing solutions to its customers. At peak times, the company runs up to 60 virtual machines on a single server.
Besides its custom-developed transaction processing solution, EFiS also runs IBM WebSphere Application Server for Java workloads, IBM WebSphere MQ for secure and flexible message exchange between applications and the IBM DB2 for Linux and Informix C-ISAM database on SLES for System z.
Gerhardt says, “We are happy with our choice of operating system and platform. Running Linux on the IBM zEnterprise servers gives us all freedom and control of modern open source software and at the same time the reliability we need.”
Running Linux applications on the IBM System z platform is mostly straight-forward; typically, the programs only need to be compiled for that platform before they can be executed just like on any other system. Buch explains, “We migrated our applications within two days to IBM System z—it was much easier than expected. Whenever we run into platform-specific problems, we receive excellent technical support from the IBM Germany Research & Development Lab.”
Performance and scalability
By running SLES for System z, EFiS benefits from the advantages of state-of-the-art software and proven hardware. This unique combination is supported by a wide range of application software. SLES for System z is a certified operating system for many applications, allowing EFiS to safely migrate most of its Linux workloads to the IBM zEnterprise server while complying with all regulations and auditing requirements from customers.
Gerhardt says, “We wanted a reliable and trusted solution that is easy to manage and operate. With SLES and the IBM System z platform, we implemented an advanced cloud solution in a single box. With full control over the open software stack and full hardware support, this environment is much more efficient to run than a distributed environment offering comparable performance.”
Especially when requirements change, often triggered by external rules and regulations, the benefits of this system architecture become obvious. Buch explains, “Right now, the new payment system, Single Euro Payments Area (or SEPA), is being introduced. As an innovator in the market, we have made an early start in supporting SEPA, which increases capacity requirements about 10 times and processing requirements by a factor of three. With SLES for System z on the IBM zEnterprise server, we quickly and easily scaled up our applications without increasing complexity or management overhead—something that would have been a very challenging task on a different platform.”
EFiS also takes advantage of the capacity on demand feature available on the IBM System z platform. The company can double its processing capabilities within minutes to handle unexpected peak workloads. Buch says, “Our Enterprise Linux Server includes more processors than we are using most of the time. If required, we can simply unlock additional processors at any time and ensure smooth operations and optimal performance for our customers. Without any further changes needed, the SUSE servers use the increased capacity immediately.”
Moving to SLES for System z on IBM System z also accelerated deployment processes significantly, speeding up development and testing. Buch adds, “Before we moved to SUSE on IBM zEnterprise, deploying a new system took several hours, even if we only needed it for one or two days. We had to source a new physical server and install an operating system from scratch. Now, we can deploy a new operating system in just 10 minutes from a precompiled image without the need for new hardware, reducing the deployment time by more than 90%.”
Saving energy with Green IT concept
One of the main benefits of the move to the Enterprise Linux Server is the superior efficiency of the IBM System z architecture. EFiS migrated 200 x86 servers to just one IBM zEnterprise server. Gerhadt says, “By consolidating SUSE servers on IBM System z, we saved 30% in energy costs. We have grown massively since we migrated to the new platform and the power consumption has remained stable.
“We always want to use all resources as efficiently as possible, so Green IT was a major driver for implementing this solution. We have also added solar panels to all our data centers. To avoid wasting energy and adding a separate uninterrupted power supply, we constantly power our servers through batteries that are charged through the solar panels. On a sunny day, we can run the Enterprise Linux Server entirely with solar energy—an achievement we are very happy about, because it illustrates how sustainable a very powerful and reliable system can be.”
The data center design at EFiS ensures a constant temperature of 29 degrees Celsius (84 F) that improves the physical reliability of all components by avoiding fast temperature changes and also reduces the overall cooling requirements. Consolidating most workload to a single server allows for a much more efficient cooling concept. In distributed environments with hundreds of servers, the entire server room will typically need to be cooled. EFiS focuses its efforts on one server that is carefully designed with energy efficiency in mind, so instead of cooling empty space, the company only cools that single server. To save additional energy, EFiS uses large water tanks at its three data centers to cool down ambient air and make sure its server is supplied with fresh air that can carry away the heat.
Thanks to these comprehensive Green IT policies, EFiS achieves an excellent power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.34 for its IBM System z server running SLES, compared to a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of about 2.5 for many traditional data centers, with some architectures having PUE factors of up to 4.
With IBM adding new power supply and power management features to the new generations of IBM System z servers, EFiS already plans to save a further 20% in energy consumption by avoiding unnecessary AC/ DC conversions.
An innovative platform
EFiS also benefits from other platform-specific features of the IBM zEnterprise server. Integrated cryptographic processors help speed up compute-intensive encryption tasks, with some Java applications running 18 times faster with hardware-based encryption compared to other system architectures without dedicated cryptographic processors.
Another performance boost is the shared cache between processors. In applications where process and context changes are frequent, a shared cache substantially reduces intermittent loading times, allowing applications to make better use of the available computing capacity.
Buch adds, “Flexible internal networking configurations based on the IBM HiperSockets technology allow services on our virtual SLES instances to communicate with each other with almost no latency. This also means we avoid using physical networking equipment that could fail or slow down throughput. This super-fast, integrated virtual network simplifies management and speeds up our applications.”
Gerhardt concludes, “Thanks to SLES running on IBM System z, we have simplified our IT environment, drastically reduced the number of servers, saved energy and improved the services we deliver to our customers. This is definitely the most efficient cloud solution we know.”