ServersIBM Lauds Server Consolidation Program

IBM Lauds Server Consolidation Program

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SAN FRANCISCO– IBM announced a series of software products and sales promotions built around server consolidation and virtualizationas a part of its Big Green initiative. While the power and cooling message remains a popular one, other aspects of today’s announcements may prove more popular.

New technologies and business initiatives centered around its AIX Unix offerings are designed to promote consolidation.

The consolidation program centers around IBM’s POWER6 processor and AIX Unix. AIX 6, the first full revision to the operating system since AIX 5 shipped in 2001, is due for general availability on Friday, according to Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM Power Systems.

AIX 6 will have some very potent new functionality, plus some support applications for high availability and power/performance issues. POWER6-based IBM systems can do live firmware upgrades while the system is running and AIX 6 will add the ability to do kernel updates while the OS is running, without requiring a reboot.

More important to IT managers is the update to the Advanced Power Virtualization software, with the addition of live partition mobility. This will allow for an entire partition to be moved to another machine while it’s running, without interruption. “We designed it so you won’t lose transactions on these high transaction systems, even while performing 2,000 transactions per second,” Healy told a group of journalists during a briefing at IBM’s San Francisco office.

This means that server maintenance, often done at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning when workloads are low, will soon become a thing of the past. An entire server load can be moved to a new physical machine, allowing routine maintenance can be done in the middle of the work day rather than at an hour when no one wants to be in the office.

Healy thinks this will be well received by people who have to do late-night weekend fixes. “The people making those buying decisions are often the ones who have to come in on weekends to do updates, so they don’t have to come in at 2 a.m. on Saturday to do upgrades any more,” he said.

Analyst Charles King of the consultancy Pund-IT felt this would be best suited for major datacenters. “It’s one of those features that’s going to make more sense to companies with very large data centers,” he said. “Do you need to update or upgrade a server more than a couple times a year? Probably not. For a company with 30 or 40 servers, that’s not a big deal. For a company with 400 or 500, it is a big deal.”

Other new technologies for POWER6 include the Advanced Power Virtualization enterprise edition, an operating system integration layer to run AIX and Linux side-by-side on the same hardware.

The new Active Energy Manager supports power management in POWER6 by monitoring usage trends for planning when to shut down or reduce power use. It can also do power capping, to stop a server from drawing too much power, and lower the frequency of a CPU or put cores in nap mode when the loads are low.

Once managers and administrators learn usage patterns with AEM, they can then begin to consolidate workloads on physical machines, cutting down on the power draw as idle machines are put into a standby mode.

IBM feels this gives it a huge advantage over rivals HP and Sun in the blade server and Unix space. “It’s at least two years before they have [technology] like this,” said Handy. “It’s hardware, firmware and updates to the virtual server. To do this is hard. We think it will give us years of competitive advantage.”

As a result, IBM is launching an aggressive migration program, called IBM Availability Factory, offering qualified Solaris and HP/UX customers a free assessment of their infrastructure and and evaluation of the benefits and cost savings they could realize from moving to AIX.

One customer IBM cited in its consolidation efforts is database software developer Sybase, which wanted to consolidate its own datacenters. It is saving $8 million to $10 million per year and will stay within the same power envelope until 2017 thanks to a 45-percent reduction in its physical hardware.

King said he is intrigued by the notion of powering down servers when the workload is low. “In a way, what you are talking about is dynamic server consolidation for big environments,” he said. “From a business perspective, every little bit of savings helps so long as it doesn’t take a lot from your IT staff.”

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