IBM virtualizes Linux on new System p Power6 servers

The Lx86 feature of IBM's new System p 520 and 550 servers enables IT shops to consolidate Linux workloads without having to recompile.

IBM Corp. hopes IT shops will consolidate Linux workloads onto IBM System p Unix servers with the help of a new line of Power6 boxes with enhanced virtualization capabilities.

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Big Blue's push toward Unix consolidation is three-pronged: to build server hardware with additional memory to accommodate numerous virtual servers; to make Unix virtualization inexpensive for those getting started; and to lure x86 folks by enabling x86 Linux applications to run unmodified and unrecompiled on the Power6 chip.

According to Joe Clabby of Yarmouth, Maine-based research firm Clabby Analytics, affordable virtualization software is " almost irresistible" for users who want to embark on server virtualization but are deterred by VMware's high price.

Tuesday's announcements include the following:

  • The System p 520 and 550, lower-end Unix boxes based on IBM's Power6 processor;
  • PowerVM, the reincarnation of Advanced Power Virtualization (APV), IBM's virtualization and partitioning platform for the Power processor;
  • PowerVM Express, which allows virtualization of three virtual servers, or partitions, onto one physical box. Standard and enterprise editions of APV, which allow more granular virtualization, carry over to PowerVM; and
  • Lx86, a new Power virtualization feature that allows x86 Linux workloads to run on Power servers without being modified or recompiled. The beta version of Lx86 was known as Application Virtual Environment .
The ramifications [for] performance, and on the size of the database that you can bang away against, are enormous.
Joe Clabby,
analystClabby Analytics

Further, IBM said that the JS22 Power6 blade will support i5/OS, the System i operating system, on the BladeCenter H platform starting in March. Support on the BladeCenter S chassis will be available this summer. The new version of the i5/OS operating system, Version 6 Release 1 (V6R1), will also be available in March.

Database-friendly virtualization
The new System p boxes have several features designed to help users consolidate x86 servers onto System p, said Scott Handy, a marketing vice president for Power systems. The System p 550, for example, has 256 GB of memory in a 4U server, a feature that Handy said helps users with large databases and those looking to consolidate.

"For some database applications, if [companies] want to run larger databases or get substantially better performance, you need a lot of memory," he said. "The other reason is as you do server consolidation, you're consolidating the memory footprints of many servers onto one. This will be a big factor, I think, in x86 consolidation."

Joe Clabby, president of analyst firm Clabby Analytics, said having a lot of memory is a big deal for database shops.

"This means that you can put a bunch of data into memory, closer to the processor, and flail away at it without I/O delays," he said. "The ramifications [for] performance, and on the size of the database that you can bang away against, are enormous."

Clabby added that IBM has made strides in the Unix space at the expense of Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. During a presentation Tuesday, IBM cited statistics from Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC that claimed an 11.4% revenue share increase for Unix over the past five years, compared with a 6.6% decrease for HP and nearly a 1% decrease for Sun.

A VMware alternative
Meanwhile, IBM has taken a page from Microsoft's Hyper-V book and has priced PowerVM Express quite low, at just $40 per processor core. This compares with the standard and enterprise editions, which can support many additional virtual servers but costs $850 and $1,500 per core, respectively.

IBM clearly had VMware Inc., the major x86 virtualization software company, in its crosshairs with its virtualization announcements. Though he noted that VMware was an IBM partner on x86 servers, Handy said that virtualization on Power is a "scalability advantage we have over VMware."

IBM has shipped 4,100 Power6 machines since announcing them last year. Of those, 450 were System i while the rest were System p.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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