IBM Enters Hypervisor Fray

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jul 23, 2009


Think the hypervisor is limited to a handful of players developing for the x86 platform? It may seem that way given where most of the attention falls these days, but IBM's news on Tuesday is a reminder that this is very much not the case.

Virtually Speaking: With POWER 7, Big Blue seeks to bridge the virtualization gap between x86 and the mainframe.

On Tuesday, Big Blue revealed plans to release a new version of its RISC processor, POWER 7, in the second half of 2010.

Not surprisingly, performance improvements rank high among POWER 7's enhancements. POWER 7 processors will have as many as eight cores, with a performance increase in each core. Sweetening the deal is that the new processors will offer backward compatibility, which means, enterprises can hold on to their System 575 and System 595 by simply upgrading the "book," holding the CPUs and memory systems.

Featurewise, however, it is the virtualization capabilities that give the most food for thought.

First off, POWER 7 will contain a host consolidation capabilities that enable it to support up to 1,000 virtual machines on a single system. While the sheer magnitude of that is impressive, the fact that it is limited to the POWER architecture makes it less so.

This is about to change though

As InternetNews notes:

Along with the new processor, IBM announced that the PowerVM hypervisor that partitions Power Systems machines has a feature called Live Partition Mobility, which will give customers control over their systems and allow them to move workloads from one machine to another.

Although the POWER 7 is a RISC-based system and not compatible with x86 servers, the new systems software, called IBM Systems Director VMControl, gives clients a tool to manage virtual servers. They can discover, display, monitor and locate virtual resources, bring up new virtual environments or move them from one system to the next.

Again interesting, but so what?

The software, as it turns out, may be what keeps POWER relevant: There's a reason it's pretty much the only RISC processor out there.

With PowerVM, enterprises can migrate x86-based virtual machines from their vendors, including HP and Dell, to IBM System i machines, so long as they are using the same hypervisor. In other words, you can't run ESXi and Hyper-V on the same box.

While it seems unlikely that an SMB will switch from a PowerEdge server to a mainframe, consider the possibilities this opens up for organizations considering a cloud. Larger enterprises and MSPs looking to consolidate are likely looking at virtualization as one way to do so, and they are equally likely to be looking at new hardware.

Providing a bridge between Power systems and more industry "standard" servers removes the barriers and opens the door for many enterprises that previously might not have considered a mainframe.

It's a long way to Power 7's release, but buying cycles tend to be long as well. Whether customers will wait out the year (or, perhaps more accurately, dither) or jump on x86 hardware and virtualize now remains to be seen. While one doesn't preclude the other, it seems unlikely most enterprises will do both.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization space since 2001, and is coauthoring a book about virtualization that is scheduled for publication in October 2009.

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