IBM Revs Virtualization Engine

Big Blue moves to take mainframe virtualization capabilities to open SANs UPDATED 4/29 NOON

April 29, 2004

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) has an arguable claim to have invented virtualization on the mainframe some 40 years ago. Today, it's trying to beat its competitors in the race to bring it to open SANs.

Today, IBM previewed for analysts what it calls its Virtualization Engine technology on its storage and servers (see IBM Previews Virtualization Engine). Jeff Barnett, IBMs director of storage software strategies, says the technology will expand virtualization capabilities IBM has had on its mainframe systems for decades.

Specifically, Barnett says IBM will incorporate mainframe virtualization capabilities into its servers and its FastT and Shark storage systems. Virtualization services include a technique called micro-partitioning that is used on mainframe systems to allow users of Unix and other operating systems to run up to 10 servers per microprocessor.

Barnett says support of the new virtualization capabilities will be extended into IBM Tivoli software and SAN Volume Controller, Total Storage Productivity Center device management software, and the Shark SAN File System. Provisioning services will work across storage systems and servers from other vendors as well as IBM gear.

One thing: IBM's grand virtualization scheme is going to take a while to materialize. The company plans a slow rollout, with the first features showing up in IBM’s iSeries servers in May.Another thing: While IBM adds virtualization to servers and storage devices, it still needs to round out a plan to address the third key element in SAN virtualization -- the network. So far, IBM has integrated its virtualization capabilities only with switches from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). (See Cisco & IBM Serve Virtual Combo.)

So what's it all mean? Maybe not so much -- not yet, anyway.

Granted, IBM has been virtualizing on the system front for a long time. A recent Byte and Switch Insider Report details how IBM came up with the idea of creating virtual processors in software back in the 1960s, ones that would maximize the use of hardware by providing applications with what "looked" to be an entire processor. Now virtualization is a major piece of IBM’s grid computing strategy, but, given the long lead times discussed today, it's not exactly clear that Big Blue is ahead of the pack. And it hardly has the virtualization space to itself.

Today, virtualization is the technology behind network-based storage applications or services such as data replication, mirroring, snapshooting, and migration from a range of vendors -- using a range of approaches. And instead of virtual processors, the technique relies on the management of virtual volumes to operate in large SAN environments (see Notes From Underground).

Competitors are proliferating, and some use the same building blocks as IBM. EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) took a step in the direction of virtualization when it purchased VMware last year. IBM uses VMware for part of its server virtualization. Veritas Software Corp. (Nasdaq: VRTS) entered the fray by purchasing performance management vendor Precise Software Solutions, application management company Ejasent, and server automation software maker Jareva Technologies; and it has partnered with IBM enterprise application rival BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS) to combine technology. (See EMC Gobbles VMware, Veritas Takes a BEA Line, Veritas Moves up the Stack, Veritas Nabs Ejasent, and Veritas Takes a BEA Line.)On the server side, IBM is racing Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to make grid computing a reality.

IBM began virtualization on the switch side last year by tailoring a version of SAN Volume Controller to work with Cisco MDS 9000 switches. IBM’s virtualization allows customers to dynamically provision storage from the Cisco switches without taking servers or storage systems down. An IBM spokeswoman says Big Blue plans to offer SAN Volume Controller’s virtualization features on switches from other vendors, but did not say when they will show up on switches from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) and others.

Bottom line? IBM has staked its claim to a piece of the action in at least two key elements of future networks -- the servers and storage. It faces lots of competition, however, and the virtualization of open SANs is clearly a work in progress.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights