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LinuxWorld: IBM shrinks the data center with Linux, System p5 560Q

At LinuxWorld, IBM's Adam Jollans told that his company aspires to shrink the physical data center footprint with a mix of new hardware, virtualization and Linux.

NEW YORK CITY -- IBM, a longtime supporter of all things Linux and open source, wants fewer Linux servers in the data center. You read that correctly. But Big Blue hasn't gone sour on the penguin; it actually wants Linux usage to keep increasing -- on the virtual level. It's all that hardware that's got to go.

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At the LinuxWorld Open Solutions Summit, IBM's Adam Jollans, worldwide Linux strategy manager told that the data center could stand to trim a little hardware fat from its sides to reduce power consumption, server sprawl and costs. Jollans also touched upon rising concerns about virtualization and IBM's push behind Linux on the mainframe. IBM bills the p5 hardware as more efficient and 'designed specifically to support virtualization.' Could you elaborate on that?

Alan Jollans: If you are in a virtual system, you need to be able to run multiple instances at the same time without them trampling each other. You can do this virtualization at the software level but you get a performance overhead. With projects like Xen, changes are made at the operating system level. You can also do virtualization at the hardware level, which is the most efficient way of virtualization. Because Linux is a cross platform operating system, and because applications such as Apache, PHP, Geronimo and MySQL are available on Linux on multiple platforms, customers have choices in terms of where to run Linux applications and find the places where they're going to be the most efficient.

To complement this, IBM introduced a new server -- the System p5 560Q at the LinuxWorld Open Solutions Summit. This machine is IBM's latest virtualization offering and is based on IBM POWER5+, which is a 64-bit RISC-based processor technology. The 560Q comes with virtualization tools for allocating logical partitions for virtual Linux machines, allocating processor and memory resources to virtual machines. Administrators can even configure the servers in Ethernet VLANs inside the box.

What's the target customer for this virtual/Linux push from IBM?

Jollans: One is the customer that handles hundreds of servers. Then there's the mid-tier [box] based on blades that goes for $3,000 to $40,000, and that is specifically aimed at the Web-tier customer. These deployments aren't necessarily complex, but are designed for customers that want to have lots of services running in parallel. Another announcement in this area was a bundle between Advanced Micro Devices, Novell and IBM's Informix Dynamic Server. This is meant to provide an efficient platform for retail customers.

What areas are going to be impacted the most by Linux and virtualization this year?

Jollans: The big impact will be for people that have really underutilized systems, and for people who begin to realize they want to save on power costs. Virtualization will also begin to seep into a couple of other areas. For example, one thing Xen can do in a grid environment is it can transfer the whole state of a machine from one system to another system. In terms of dynamic computing, this is very important.

In the security arena, IT managers will begin to ask 'how do you have security between different OSes?' If you have a virtual system, what you don't want is to have people coming in through a Windows system and being able to do things that relate to the Linux system. The gold standard right now is managerial access control security systems, which the military has used for a number of years. This is what they did with SELinux. This lets users add security to the hypervisor layer so we have these firm installations between OSes. We'll soon have straightforward policies for managerial access control security systems and protection for Linux and Windows.

Do you have any more to offer on what IBM is doing with Xen security?

Jollans: We have contributed the sHype code, and now the Xen project is working with it. (Editor's Note: sHype is a hypervisor security architecture developed by IBM Research that was donated to the Xen project.) It's still in the research stage.

Overall, 2006 was a good year for the mainframe, correct?

Jollans: People realized that it makes sense from an IT point of view to share resources. Mainframes are good at harnessing resources and I/O efficiency.

So how did Linux play in that space?

Jollans: There are three ways to run [a mainframe]. First, you can run on bare metal. The second is to run it alongside an existing system with a core system running on DB2 or Oracle or CICS. The third way is to have a real big number of virtual machines in a mainframe.

Last year, at LinuxWorld San Francisco, there was an IBM customer from Brazil that did massively multiplayer online games. This is not an obvious customer for a mainframe, but they wanted it because they had to have everyone playing the game on the same server. They wanted the biggest machine possible, and they were able to do that with the mainframe and Linux.

How big a role does Linux play in the mainframe resurgence?

Jollans: Linux brought the mainframe to the attention of people who would not have looked at it before. In the past, people might have said the mainframe was old technology, but with Linux, it just runs so well that people are considering it something hot and new.

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