InfoWorld review: Dell AIM automates today's data center

Dell's adaptive infrastructure management framework has something competitors don't: support for heterogeneous hardware

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For example, I took a RHEL5 "persona" (AIM's term for a managed server image), booted it on a Dell blade, moved it to an HP ProLiant 1U server, next to a VMware vSphere virtual machine, back to a blade, and then to a Microsoft Hyper-V instance. Throughout all those gyrations, the only problem encountered was when Hyper-V had an issue with the ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) shutdown and had to be manually powered off -- a problem wholly owned by Hyper-V.

In other cases, I was able to trick AIM into unknown states, but it invariably landed on its feet, such as when I created a new persona from a blade that had a RHEL5 system installed on the local disk, then booted that persona on another blade. The second, target blade was a known AIM server resource, and thus was configured to PXE boot to pick up any new persona it had been assigned. However, I selected to boot from the local disk and thus brought up an identical server to the one I'd just created. In essence, there were two identical servers, potentially with identical IP information, running identical services. To its credit, AIM threw a stream of notifications into the logs about the mysterious new server that had appeared and didn't attempt any half-cocked remedies.

The testbed I worked with was quite varied in terms of different hardware. There were a half-dozen Dell blades in a Dell PowerEdge M1000e chassis, a few HP ProLiant DL385 G5 servers, Dell PowerEdge R710 and R610 servers, and Cisco and Dell Ethernet switches, backed by a Dell EMC CX4 240 FC array and a Dell EqualLogic PS6000XV iSCSI array. It was a quite reasonable representation of a heterogeneous computing infrastructure, and AIM handled all the pieces fluidly.

AIM could ostensibly be used to manage multiple data centers in different locations, but Dell doesn't recommend it. Dell would have you tie AIM to a single data center, though you could accomplish an end run by deploying an AIM controller in each data center and using SAN replication to sync server LUNs between the two.

VMware vSphere shops should note that AIM currently has no understanding of VMware's vApp concept. AIM can't see the various dependencies among the virtual machines in a vApp and act accordingly. This is a minor quibble, but could be an important factor in some data centers.

While AIM is the centerpiece of Dell's adaptive infrastructure play, it's supported by two other wrap-around components in the Dell Virtual Integrated System (VIS). The new Dell VIS Self-Service Creator adds self-service provisioning to the mix, while the forthcoming Dell VIS Director will handle service monitoring, dependency mapping, capacity planning, and cost allocation for AIM-managed infrastructures. (See the sidebar, "InfoWorld preview: Dell's VIS vision takes shape.")

All in all, AIM is a remarkably complete and very ambitious tool, limited only by the present pain of initial integration and the occasional problem related to someone coloring too far outside the lines. It's largely an all-or-nothing solution, but the benefits provided -- namely, the ability to efficiently and easily move servers across a wide array of hardware and virtualization platforms -- and the degree of automation it brings even to heterogeneous infrastructures are impressive.

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