IBM to virtualize servers, storage

IBM Corp. on Wednesday will announce plans to begin offering new virtualization software and partitioning technology with its servers that will allow them to run as many as 10 versions of an operating system on a single processor.

IBM will add operating system enhancements — job scheduling and workload management capabilities, for example — along with software from its WebSphere, Tivoli and DB2 products to create a series of technologies and services it is calling Virtualization Engine.

This kind of technology has been available to IBM’s mainframe users for years, but Virtualization Engine is the result of a three-year program to bring these capabilities to other IBM systems including storage devices, according to Tom Hawk, the general manager of IBM’s enterprise storage group.

It will increase the utilization levels of systems and make them easier to manage, he said. “What we’re really talking about is what I’ll call mainframe-level manageability, discipline, and tools,” he said.

Virtualization Engine will be worked into IBM systems, starting with the iSeries line, which is expected to be refreshed within the next two months.

IBM plans to use technology it has developed internally to enable the partitioning of the Power5 processors, which are used in its iSeries and pSeries servers. The company will use an unnamed third party to deliver partitioning services to its Intel-based xSeries systems, it said.

IBM’s iSeries minicomputer line, formerly known as AS/400, already has a number of useful virtualization capabilities built into the product, according to Nigel Fortlage, the vice-president of GH Young International, an international trade consulting firm based in Winnipeg.

In 2003, GH Young consolidated 16 Intel Corp. servers onto two iSeries machines running Linux, Windows 2000, and the OS/400 operating system that ships with iSeries servers. This saved the company $100,000 in hardware acquisition and maintenance costs, according to Fortlage.

“Prior to doing all of this virtualization, we were spending 95 per cent of our time managing,” said Fortlage. “The iSeries manages so much of the low-level stuff that used to cause the glitches,” he said, “I don’t have to do the three-finger salute every couple of days; they just run,” he said, referring to the Ctrl-Alt-Delete keyboard combination sometimes required to reboot Windows.

The Virtualization Engine components that will be new to iSeries will include an embedded version of Tivoli’s Provisioning Manager software, as well as a WebSphere-based grid computing toolkit that will allow customers to run distributed applications using the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) standards.

The partitioning component of Virtualization Engine is similar to VMware’s GSX Server and ESX Server software and Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Virtual Partitions (vPars), wrote Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with industry research firm Illuminata Inc. in an e-mail interview. “VMware does not allow individual applications to use more than two CPUs worth of performance,” he wrote, “Power partitions scale far higher than VMware can do.”

IBM, like its other system vendor competitors HP and Sun Microsystems Inc., has done “pretty good” work with its virtualization technology so far, Eunice wrote. “The battle, however, is not just to do pretty good, but to do exceptional virtualization, to make it systematic, and to push its use throughout all the data center and IT processes,” he added. “No vendor and no user is…there yet,” he wrote.

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