IBM Brings Virtualization To The Server

IBM on Wednesday previewed what it called its "Virtualization Engine," a combination of software and hardware technologies that will allow enterprises to run as many as ten "virtual" servers on

April 29, 2004

4 Min Read
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IBM on Wednesday previewed what it called its "Virtualization Engine," a combination of software and hardware technologies that will allow enterprises to run as many as ten "virtual" servers on a single microprocessor.

The result of a three-year research effort, Virtualization Engine (VE) will ship on some IBM eServer systems as early as next month, said Tim Dougherty, manager of the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer maker's eServer Blade Server division, and continue to roll out on new servers and storage devices throughout the end of the year.

The virtualization technology, which has existed on mainframes for years, is being brought into the server and storage market as part of an overall IBM effort to boost system utilization in heterogeneous environments, said Dougherty.

"Partitioning is only a small part of the overall picture," he said. "Customers have told us the their major pain point is a proliferation of equipment. Enterprises will always have a disparate environment, because specific servers do specific jobs very well. We'll provides the common construct, a layer to put on top so that a company can look at the whole IT structure as a single entity."

Although VE is sure to get the bulk of attention -- a four-way server can be sliced into as many as 40 separate partitions, each with its own operating system and applications, own memory and virtual networking -- IBM also debuted a suite of software that will help run the plethora of virtual servers and tie together IBM and non-IBM hardware into an environment that can be managed from one software console.IBM Director Multiplatform, a spin-off from IBM's existing Director product, servers as the control center for servers, clusters, and grids, while other tools -- including a workload manager and a Tivoli-based provisioner, optimize resources and boost availability.

"All the individual components are interesting in their own right, but the real shift in thinking with VE is the simple, unified approach," said Jonathan Eunice, president and principal analyst with Illuminata. "That is, customers can now start to deploy virtualization as a single thing, not a bag of tools. That shift to a unified model, not a diverse toolbox, is its most important feature."

The full complement of the VE platform -- including what IBM calls "micro-partitioning," the divvying of a single processor into up to 10 virtual servers -- will only be available on systems that rely on the upcoming Power 5 processor, said Dougherty. The iSeries -- the former AS-400 minicomputers -- will get the technology first, he said, with the Unix-running pSeries next in line.

Some of the technology will be transplanted in 2004 to the Intel-based xSeries servers, Dougherty added, although there virtualization will be based on EMC's VMware software.

IBM's goal, said Dougherty, is to bring the high levels of system utilization common in mainframes to the server world. Mainframes typically run at 80 percent of capacity, compared with 15 percent for servers running Unix, Windows, or Linux.To do that, Director Multiplatform and the other tools, along with VE, will monitor workloads across the entire IT complex, create new partitions or bring other servers online, and provision those virtual and physical servers to tell them what applications and operating systems to run for that workload.

"The idea is to direct the work to the excess capacity that every enterprise has," said Dougherty.

Eunice sees VE in a broader way, a bigger picture.

"VE is a good start on providing across-the-board virtualization, something that can start to become a corporate standard, a common baseline. VE components bring out some nice functional advances, but the biggest change it can bring is to make systematic virtualization an accepted and demanded part of every operating environment."

IBM isn't alone in offering virtualization software. Rivals HP, with its vPartitions technology, and Sun, with its N1 architecture, also offer software with differing degrees of virtual machine creation and management.Dougherty, naturally, thinks his employer will be atop the virtualization heap once VE rolls out. "HP and Sun, they only focus on their own stuff," he said, "but we're on this in disparate, heterogeneous environments, with IBM and non-IBM hardware."

Eunice didn't buy all of Dougherty's entire argument. "IBM could fairly argue to have the most enterprise virtualization products, capabilities, and scope of vision. But I don't think that kind of tit-for-tat, nit-for-nit comparison is what customers are looking for. They are, by and large, looking for a simplified, more efficient, more agile IT infrastructure," he said.

IBM has not revealed prices for the upcoming servers that will include the VE technology, but Dougherty did say "to expect some differential with current servers."

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