IBM envisions virtualization

Virtualization Engine gives one server the strength of 10

IBM is prepping its VE (Virtualization Engine) to allow servers to be partitioned like mainframes, enabling them to run as many as 10 services on a single processor.

Three years in the making, the technology combines software and hardware to enable computer systems to "clone" themselves, thereby easing management, reducing costs, and increasing server utilization, according to officials at IBM.

The technology will be built into all of IBM's upcoming Power 5-based pSeries and iSeries servers, which will begin shipping in the second quarter.

"To a lot of people, virtualization meant just partitioning, but we think it means more than that. In fact, it is fundamental to putting in place a more simplified management construct that goes across your entire IT infrastructure," said Tim Dougherty, director of server strategy for the systems and technology group at IBM.

IBM borrowed the core virtualization technology from its existing mainframes and is physically transplanting it into its Unix servers.

According to Dougherty, the technology helps mainframes maintain utilization rates in the 80 percent range, as compared with approximately 50 percent for Unix servers and between 5 percent and 15 percent for Intel-based servers.

Some industry observers see the product as more about simplifying the computing lives of IT administrators than about saving money.

"In my view, this VE is more about unification and simplification than individual cost savings. Virtualization in general -- and VE in particular -- is about systematic simplification and cost reduction, as opposed to just 'a cheaper server,' " said Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst and IT advisor at Illuminata.

VE also contains provisioning and management tools from Tivoli, along with grid functions in WebSphere's run-time environment.

VE's micro-partitioning technology includes virtual networking, memory, and LAN functionality, which makes it possible for corporate administrators to partition as many as 10 fully functioning services per processor.

One of those services is the IBM Director Multiplatform, which provides administrators with one point of control and management for both IBM and non-IBM servers, including those from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.