IBM unveils virtualization technology

One server gets the strength of 10

IBM's Systems and Technology Group has introduced its Virtualization Engine, which allows a Unix-based system to be partitioned just like a mainframe, enabling it to run as many as 10 servers per processor.

Three years in development, the new virtualization technology is a combination of software embedded into new hardware systems from IBM that makes it possible for computer systems to "clone" themselves, according to company executives. At an analyst meeting Wednesday, they said the technology will be built into all of its upcoming Power 5-based pSeries and iSeries servers over the next year, starting in this year's 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. That is really what we are trying to address with this," said Tim Dougherty, director of server strategy for IBM's Systems and Technology Group.

IBM has borrowed the core technology from its existing mainframes and has "physically" transplanted it for the first time in its lines of Unix servers.

"This concept of micro-partitioning has been on mainframes for years, but now we are taking it to the p- and iSeries. If one of those systems has, say, 16 processors, customers can put up 160 different partitions. By multiplying the performance of one server by that much, we think we can fundamentally improve the basic economics of IT shops," Dougherty said.

This virtualization technology, among others, is partly responsible for mainframes being able to maintain consistent utilization rates in the 80 percent range, according to Dougherty. This compares with the utilization rates of around 50 percent for Unix servers, and between five and 15 percent for Intel-based servers, he added, which means Unix and Intel-based systems have higher operational costs.

Besides incorporating mainframe-based technology, the Virtualization Engine also for the first time contains provisioning and management tools from Tivoli along with grid functions in WebSphere's runtime environment.

The systems micro-partitioning includes virtual networking, memory, and LAN, which makes it possible for corporate users to each processor 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. From a single console, one administrator can manage multiple environments, reducing both human and technical costs, an IBM spokesman said.

Also bundled into the engine are enterprise-level workload management and provisioning tools intended to simplify management as well as increase system availability across a range of IBM and non-IBM servers. The engine also has grid capabilities for dealing with distributed systems that are based on Open Grid Services Architecture (OSGA) and WebSphere.

One Linux-based user with a company offering international trade services said he was looking forward to the upcoming technology based on some results he already had with virtualization technologies used to help manage its custom management systems and overall business operations.

"We have taken some major steps to simplify our infrastructure by leveraging virtualization technologies such as [IBM's] Power and Intel-based systems. Before the server consolidation we did we spent 95 percent of out time just keeping our systems and network running. Now we spend about five percent," said Nigel Fortlage, vice president of IT at GHY International.

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