Virtualization: Where It Is and Where It's Going

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Server, storage, and network virtualization increase flexibility, mask complexity, and reduce costs for IT departments.


Virtualization is getting to be long in the tooth, at least in terms of the accelerated universe in which IT now operates. Nonetheless, the term is still somewhat confusing. That's not surprising because there isn't just one variety. Thus, when someone tries to talk to you about or sell you virtualization, your first question should be, "Which type?"


There are at least three forms of virtualization: server, storage, and network. And, considering IT vendors' occasional habit of morphing the meaning of terms to suit their offerings, there may already be additional ones and still more to come in the future.

Server Virtualization

For most IT professionals, the term "virtualization" normally conjures up notions of virtual servers. With this type of virtualization, a single physical server runs multiple virtual servers, each of which is logically isolated from the others. This isolation means that if one virtual server crashes, it usually won't bring down the other virtual servers running on the same hardware.


Depending on the virtualization technology, the different virtual servers might each run a different operating system. For example, IBM's PowerVM virtualization technologies can run multiple IBM i, AIX, and Linux virtual servers simultaneously on a single physical Power Systems server.


Numbers are hard to come by, but, despite the fact that many virtualization technologies can run different operating systems simultaneously, anecdotal evidence suggests this is not happening frequently, at least not in the Power Systems arena.


During an interview at the recent COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition, Bill Hammond, a product-marketing director at Vision Solutions, confirmed that his company is seeing little cross-platform virtualization. He speculated that this is largely due to the fact that the IT pillars in organizations are still quite segregated, with each technology group asserting firm ownership over its own systems.


When they view it at a high level, IT veterans who have been around long enough to still use the name "AS/400" to refer to the platform that IBM now calls Power Systems may consider PowerVM to be nothing new. Many of the core features of PowerVM have been available through OS/400, i5/OS, and now IBM i LPARs for quite some time. However, PowerVM adds to and advances those features.


Consider these key PowerVM features:

  • The PowerVM hypervisor supports multiple IBM i, AIX, and Linux virtual servers on a single system.
  • Micro-partitioning makes it possible to run up to 10 partitions per processor core.
  • Dynamic Logical Partitioning (DLPAR) allows processor, memory, and I/O resources to be moved dynamically between partitions, making it possible to quickly adapt to varying workloads on each virtual server. Individual resources can be dedicated to a partition, or they can be allocated to partitions with a granularity as fine as 1/100thof a processor.
  • Multiple shared-processor pools (MSPPs) make it possible to automatically balance processor usage among partitions. This feature also allows you to cap the processor resources assigned to a group of partitions, which may allow you to reduce software licensing fees.
  • The Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) virtualizes disk, tape, and Ethernet resources, thereby simplifying management and reducing system costs.
  • The Integrated Virtualization Manager (IVM) is a point-and-click, browser-based tool that can be used to create and manage partitions. The IVM is included with all entry-level and midrange Power Systems. The Hardware Management Console (HMC) provides a wider feature set for creating and managing virtual systems. The HMC is packaged in an external tower or a rack-mounted server and can be used to provide a central point of control for virtual servers running multiple physical Power Systems servers.

    It has been suggested that a future direction for IBM is to merge the capabilities of the IVM and the HMC, but IBM has neither announced a planned release date nor even officially confirmed this. 
  • Live Partition Mobility allows active AIX and Linux partitions to be moved to another physical system without interrupting user activity. This feature can be used to eliminate downtime when upgrading or performing maintenance on a physical server. Live Partition Mobility is not currently available for IBM i partitions.
  • AIX Workload Partitions (WPARs) allow running applications to move between Power Systems servers running AIX or AIX partitions.
  • Active Memory Sharing optimizes memory usage by autonomously flowing memory resources from one partition to another as appropriate.
  • With the introduction of IBM i 7.1, IBM i 6.1 can now host IBM i 7.1 partitions and vice versa.


Server Virtualization Pros

In today's environmentally conscious world, the "greenness" of server virtualization is often cited. Because a single, more powerful server typically consumes less electricity and requires less cooling, the carbon footprint of virtualized servers running on a single physical system is generally much smaller than the multiple physical servers that virtualization replaces.


It is an open question, but one wonders whether there would be as big a movement to go green in this way if doing so didn't also serve to reduce power costs. Cost reductions will become an increasingly strong argument in favor of server consolidation via virtualization as electricity prices rise.


In addition to lower power and cooling costs, the cost of a single higher-powered physical server running multiple virtual servers is normally considerably lower than the combined costs of the multiple pieces of hardware that it replaces.


The ability to quickly—even automatically—reallocate resources among virtual servers makes virtualization a good way to perform load balancing. Typically, workloads peak at different times for different applications. When each application is run on its own physical server, each of those servers must be sized to handle the full peak load of the application running on it. When, instead, those servers are virtualized on a single physical system, the physical server can be sized smaller than the sum of the peaks because the workload peaks of some applications will overlap the valleys of other applications.


Virtualization can also result in a reduction in labor costs because it is generally easier to manage, monitor, and secure a single physical server hosting multiple virtual servers than it is to perform those tasks on multiple physical servers.


Virtualization can also reduce the cost and the time required to implement new applications that require their own servers as it is not necessary to buy, install, and configure new hardware.


Server Virtualization Cons

Virtualization is not cost-free. The most obvious cost is software licensing for PowerVM, which is levied per core. The price of PowerVM depends on whether you buy the Express, Standard, or Enterprise edition.


Another thing to consider is that virtualization is yet one more technology that must be installed, configured, and managed. Consequently, the implementation of virtualization incurs learning costs. The required skills development is not overly burdensome, but it is a factor.


In one of his sessions at COMMON that discussed the interaction of virtualization and disaster recovery on the AIX platform, Ferenc Gyurcsan, a senior solutions consultant with Vision Solutions, mentioned a cost of virtualization that, despite being obvious when one stops to think about it, is often overlooked. Virtualization introduces a management and control layer between the operating system and a system's hardware. The amount of resources used by the virtualization layer, and by some of the virtualization options listed above, is typically very small relative to the resources employed by the other software running on a physical server. Nonetheless, if a physical server is sized parsimoniously, taking into account solely the processing loads of the individual servers virtualized on it, performance may not be adequate to satisfy user requirements. This might be an issue particularly in high-usage data centers or high-performance computing environments.


The benefits of virtualization usually greatly outweigh the cost of accommodating the processing requirements of the virtualization technology, but this cost must be taken into consideration nonetheless.


Gyurcsan mentioned another factor that organizations should consider. When they consolidate servers, they are putting all of their eggs in one basket. When each server runs on its own independent physical system, possibly geographically distant from the organization's other physical servers, if there is a hardware or software failure, a disaster strikes, or the server has to be shut down for maintenance, the organization will lose only the business functionality performed on that one server.


In contrast, after consolidating servers, if a planned or unplanned event brings down the physical server, all of the virtual servers running on it will stop running too. In that case, rather than just one subset of the business functionality stopping, the entire business will be brought to a halt.


Because of the greater role that the single physical server plays, it becomes significantly more important to consider options such as high availability and disaster recovery solutions to ensure that system downtime does not bring the business to its knees.

Storage Virtualization

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) defines storage virtualization as "The act of integrating one or more (back end) services or functions with additional (front end) functionality for the purpose of providing useful abstractions. Typically virtualization hides some of the back-end complexity, or adds or integrates new functionality with existing back end services. Examples of virtualization are the aggregation of multiple instances of a service into one virtualized service, or to add security to an otherwise insecure service. Virtualization can be nested or applied to multiple layers of a system."


The terms "Storage Area Network" (SAN) and "storage virtualization" are often used interchangeably, but they are not synonymous. A March 2006 white paper prepared by IDC and sponsored by Hitachi describes the differences this way: "A SAN uses a network to separate the connection between servers and storage from physical limitations, while storage virtualization creates a logical separation via software (including controller microcode). To put it another way, SAN integrates storage networks while virtualization integrates storage management."


In the Power Systems world, storage virtualization is achieved using a Virtual I/O Server  (VIOS) that "owns" the physical storage devices, likely through a SAN. The VIOS is an independent server that runs in its own partition.


Storage Virtualization Pros


Flexibility, and the resulting opportunities for cost-savings, is one of the major benefits of storage virtualization. Because the storage hardware is abstracted, it appears as a single logical unit to application programs, no matter how complex and fragmented the underlying storage hardware may be. As a result, organizations are free to choose storage devices to suit the needs of their data and their budgets.


By providing a common interface for managing the whole SAN, storage virtualization can also simplify and, therefore, reduce the workload of managing an organization's storage.


Because virtualized storage looks like a single homogeneous unit to end-user applications, new storage devices can be easily added to the SAN to increase storage capacity without affecting user applications. This makes virtualized storage highly scalable.


Storage Virtualization Cons


During one of his sessions at COMMON, Gyurcsan stated that, like server virtualization, the result of storage virtualization may be that you place all of your eggs in one basket. Using a VIOS creates a single point of failure that can shut down access to all of your organization's data rather than just the data on a single physical disk drive.


One way to avoid this vulnerability is to configure multiple VIOSs. Then, a secondary VIOS can automatically take over when the primary VIOS is unavailable.


Figure 1 depicts two VIOSs attached to a single SAN. This protects against VIOS downtime, but it will not protect against a SAN failure or loss of data within the SAN. To eliminate this risk as well, you set up two separate SANs, each owned by a different VIOS. You can then use hardware-based mirroring or software-based replication to keep the two synchronized.


Figure 1: A Dual VIOS configuration looks like this.

(Source: Ferenc Gyurcsan, Vision Solutions)


Gyurcsan suggested that virtualized storage requires more thorough and proper change management practices across the IT organization with regards to storage and storage area network management in order to ensure that changes introduced in one environment do not inadvertently affect other environments.

Network Virtualization

Network virtualization abstracts physical network resources into a common logical networking platform that can be shared by different virtual servers. As with storage virtualization, network virtualization on IBM Power Systems is enabled by the VIOS. Rather than each virtual server owning its own physical network adapter(s), the network adapters are owned by the VIOS. Client LPARs then connect to the network through the VIOS.  This can result in a significantly smaller I/O footprint and better resource utilization.


When configured using the Shared Ethernet Adapter Failover feature, the secondary VIOS can automatically take over when the primary VIOS is unavailable.


Because most of the pros and cons of virtualized storage are attributes of the VIOS, most of the storage virtualization pros and cons apply to network virtualization.

The Future of Virtualization

Predicting technology trends over the long term is invariably fraught with gross inaccuracies. However, it is almost certainly safe to say that, for all three types of virtualization, vendors will continue to make their technologies easier to implement and use. Future virtualization technology versions will likely also offer higher performance and more autonomous self-healing and self-tuning features. All of those advances will probably continue to reduce the total cost of ownership of virtualization technologies.


As companies become more comfortable with virtualization and the total cost of ownership falls further, virtualization will likely change the way organizations implement their IT solutions, and it will likely also make new businesses possible.


Cloud computing already benefits from virtualization. Both Hammond and Gyurcsan expect that those benefits will continue to increase in the future. They see virtualization as a way to quickly add new applications to the cloud, without having to immediately add new hardware. In addition, virtualization makes it much easier to perform load balancing in the cloud and to quickly scale applications and storage in the cloud.


Hammond also thinks that virtualization may make new business opportunities viable. For example, he sees an opportunity for more companies to sell hosted disaster recovery offerings.


Companies that provide disaster recovery sites own a fixed amount of hardware, or their clients may own the hardware and store it in the third-party site. Without virtualization, if multiple companies simultaneously declare a disaster—which is likely in the event of a major natural disaster—the last organizations to request support from their disaster recovery site vendor may find that they are out of luck.


Owning the hardware and paying to situate it at the third-party recover site gets around the problem of being unable to use the hardware if too many companies declare a disaster simultaneously. The company that owns the hardware has exclusive use of it. However, this comes at a price, which may be difficult to justify considering that disasters rarely occur.


In contrast, if the third-party's hardware runs virtualized servers, additional companies can be supported at the recovery site during an emergency by simply adding virtual servers to the available hardware. Customers might have to throttle back their user applications and forgo some non-essential applications during the emergency if the hardware does not have sufficient capacity, but they won't be shut down completely.


Hammond suggests that this will lower the barriers to entry for new recovery site vendors. They can start off small, buying only a minimal amount of hardware, while still being able to promise to serve multiple customers in the event of a disaster.


The state of virtualization is already at the point where every organization should at least evaluate it to consider whether it can reduce costs while increasing operational flexibility, availability, and functionality within the organization. And, as the technologies advance, virtualization will become yet more advantageous in the future.

Joel Klebanoff

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, writer, and formerly president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm. He has 30 years' experience in various IT capacities and now specializes in writing articles, white papers, and case studies for IT vendors and publications across North America. Joel is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. He holds a BS in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at

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    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.


  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption



  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access




  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.


  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.



  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.



  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.