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IBM virtualizes Linux x86 apps on System p box

Mark Fontecchio
IBM is announcing beta virtualization software today that allows x86 Linux applications to run directly on its System p midrange Unix machines, bypassing the need to recompile applications or beg software vendors to port them over to Linux on Power.

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The software, called Application Virtual Environment, is clearly a step by Big Blue's System p division to draw the Linux crowd away from x86 servers, especially when it comes time for server consolidation.

"Instead of deploying Linux on x86 and not getting capacity utilization, you can take all your Linux binaries running on x86 architecture and consolidate them onto a System p box," said Brad Day, senior analyst of infrastructure and IT operations for research firm Forrester. "This is critical for System p. To be successful you have to have that hybrid capability to be able to run AIX and Linux on the same box."

Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for System p, said the company already has 2,800 native applications that run Linux on Power, the processor for the platform.

But there are plenty of x86 Linux applications out there that are either written in-house or created by a software vendor that hasn't made it available for the IBM midrange platform. In those instances, users either have to ask software vendors to port the applications or recompile it themselves using an IBM tool called Chiphopper.

"Some of the applications are their own applications, and the guy who wrote it is no longer with the company, and they don't want to spend the time (porting it to System p)," Handy said. "Or, they have no interest in going to the application provider and getting them to port. With this beta, they can test things without getting the ISV involved, and we're expecting the applications to just work."

With the software, the System p server will recognize the x86 Linux application and run it in the Application Virtual Environment. The software creates a virtual x86 environment and file structure, executing the x86 Linux application by mapping the instruction set to the Power-based system. It then uses caching so that the next time the application runs, the mapping of x86 to Power is saved in memory and responds quicker.

That will result in some application overhead, said Jonathan Eunice, the founder and principal IT advisor for research and analyst firm Illuminata Inc., but users probably won't notice.

"If you were talking about an equal processor environment, there is overhead in dynamic translation," he said. "What often happens is the binary you're running is on a box that's two or more years old. When you move it to a new box, you can actually see a speedup. You're not seeing a like-for-like transition; as a result, the net performance is generally very good."

Handy claimed that consolidating x86 servers and applications onto midrange platforms is gaining in popularity. Before this year, a normal user running Linux on System p would have three Linux partitions. In the first quarter of this year, he said the average number of Linux partitions for System p jumped to 30.

Handy said that Application Virtual Environment will be free to users when it becomes generally available at the end of the summer.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.


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