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Technology Focus: Virtualization and Consolidation Options for IBM i

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Looking for virtualization or consolidation resources specific to IBM i? Here are some places to start.

 

For larger enterprises using IBM Power Systems (IBM i), options for reducing long-term operating expenses and streamlining operations are more plentiful than ever. Two general groupings of solutions are virtualization and consolidation, but many enterprises use options from each.

 

Virtualization in general refers to the ability to use the Internet as your local network for accessing computer services. According to a Chris Smith interview of IBM cloud expert Bruce Otte last fall, if those services are offered within your own company, it's called a private cloud, and if you're using a remote service provider that also offers those services to others, it's a public cloud. Hybrid clouds combine elements of public and private clouds.

 

Hardware virtualization is the division of system memory to let different operating systems run on the same machine so that specific applications and other computing services can operate under the OS most efficient for them to use without interfering with each other. Each partition is called a "virtual machine." Network virtualization is a process of viewing all devices on a network logically (often via graphical icons) so they can be managed from a central console.

 

Application virtualization has two meanings. The first is delivering applications to a user from a central server without necessarily having to load that application on the user's machine. The second is the ability to run the same application on different computer platforms (or under different OSes on the same machine) because they're written in a language (such as Java) that has a runtime engine for each OS.

 

Virtualization, which has been a hot-topic solution for several years now, provides plenty of paths for intrepid IT departments to explore. The virtualization umbrella encompasses solutions as varied as hardware virtualization (also known as Platform as a Service, or PaaS), in which virtual machines running your OS and software applications of choice operate on a local or remote server; Software as a Service (SaaS), in which your enterprise runs applications hosted on someone else's machines over the Internet or downloads apps on an as-needed basis to your equipment; and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which outsources the bulk of your IT department to someone else entirely. In between are such measures as Storage as a Service (StaaS), which outsources backup services.

 

Frequently cited concerns with virtualization include management of costs, spotty security for corporate data stored elsewhere or tapped into during transmission, I/O problems stemming from storage inefficiencies at service provider sites, and integration of services with mobile devices. Also of concern are maintaining adequate service levels and the related problem of having to compete with numerous other customers for the top spot on service providers' troubleshooting priority lists—as one may be accustomed to under the classical system of in-house IT services.

 

Consolidation in the general sense is the practice of combining operations of several machines into one larger one to increase processing efficiency and reduce overhead. In the IBM i world, this alternative has essentially existed for decades: As more powerful System i models have appeared, enterprises with multiple machines have been able to combine more business functions onto fewer systems.

In a Fog about the Cloud

Much as many would like to consult a single oracle that can tell them whether virtualization or consolidation is the right road for their enterprise to take, there's no such authority. Options are so numerous and customizable that the best combination of virtualization and consolidation choices has to be decided on a case-by-case basis for each enterprise; and the minute your business changes, a different combination may become more optimal. So far, most shops employing virtualization are mixing and matching between options, converting some functions to the cloud and retaining others under local control. But is it any wonder we call the whole business "cloud computing"?

 

If you're unsure how to proceed, you're not alone. In mid-June, Symantec Corporation released results of its "2011 Virtualization and Evolution to the Cloud Survey," a poll of more than 3,700 respondents in 35 countries. The survey shows that while more than 75 percent of the IT shops participating are currently considering cloud deployments, 46 percent of CFOs and 44 percent of CEOs have serious hesitations about committing to deployment.

 

While the statistics would probably be somewhat different were this survey done exclusively for IBM i shops, it's reasonable to expect a somewhat similar divide on the issue between IT and upper management thinking at many enterprises using Power Systems. Symantec's press release on the survey dryly notes, "These gaps are a hallmark of early stage markets where expectations are out of step with reality." No foolin'? (As a benchmark of enterprise size for contemplating virtualization projects, Symantec defined "small" organizations participating in the survey as having at least 1,000 employees.)

 

Looking at results of virtualization projects, the Symantec survey identified server virtualization projects as most successful, with only a 4 percent gap between expected and realized goals. Least successful are more modest-sounding StaaS projects, respondents reporting they reached their goal of reducing complexity in operations only 44 percent of the time in such projects. In situations where enterprises have started implementation, 59 percent plan to move database applications to the cloud in the next year, 55 percent are eyeing Web apps for conversion, 47 are looking at email and calendar apps, and 41 percent have virtualization in mind to handle ERP.

 

Despite a clear consensus on implementation, the virtualization bandwagon is picking up speed: SaaS revenue industry-wide was $10 billion in 2010, and speculation is that it will reach $12 billion this year and $21 billion by 2015.

 

For the most part, readers of this article will be interested in getting information about adopting virtualization and consolidation as ways of streamlining their own business processes. But if your enterprise might be open to providing virtualization services to other companies using IBM systems as an additional line of business, you might want to check out IBM's Cloud Computing Specialty page.

 

Probably the best way to survey the technology choices available to the IBM i shop in virtualization and consolidation is to simply point to some good sources of information that can help you sort out whether the time is ripe for any kind of virtualization or consolidation change at your enterprise, and if so, what that might be.

Navigating the Garden of Forking Paths

According to the Gartner Group, there are five major ways  to migrate applications to the cloud. Rehosting is to redeploy software to a different hardware environment. Refactoring is to run applications on a provider's infrastructure (basically SaaS). Revising is a rewrite of an application as a preliminary to rehosting or refactoring. Rebuilding is to rewrite an application to run on a PaaS alternative. Replacing is to abandon in-house custom apps for off-the-shelf commercial apps in a SaaS setting. Garter goes on to point out that picking any of these is an enterprise optimization decision that has to be based on business and IT goals and shouldn't be "a rush to experiment with new toys."

 

One place to start making decisions is with your current OS. IBM i 7.1 provides the most advanced virtualization features for hosted partitions and PowerVM. If you aren't running this version yet, the Redbook provides information that can help you decide what cloud features you can access under that version of the OS and then make an informed decision to upgrade to 7.1 if you haven't already.

Consolidation Advice

IBM and your hardware reseller of choice are resources for information about consolidating operations of multiple servers on fewer machines. In particular, IBM Consolidation Factory is a service that provides analysis and recommendations for combining existing server operations and migrating existing applications. IBM's IT Facilities Consolidation and Relocation Services are a resource for information on combining server facilities, particularly if the changes involve a physical relocation of equipment.

Vendor Resources for Virtualization

If you're interested in applications via the cloud, SaaS vendors and application service providers can provide specific information on services, requirements, and costs (see below for a list).

 

IBM offers Cloudburst, a pre-installed and pre-configured private-cloud computing environment for Power Systems running AIX 6.1 Standard Edition. This self-contained solution, offered with QuickStart services, can take a lot of guesswork out of getting started with cloud computing. IBM's Smart Cloud Services and Technologies for the Enterprise provides cloud platform services, a Workload Deployer that offers templates for putting together customized cloud services, and two implementation options. Although not available for IBM i yet, speculation abounds that it's just a matter of time until it is.

 

Cloud technology vendors compatible with IBM systems include Cohesive Flexible Technology's VPN-Cubed DataCenter Connect, a hardware system that helps customers control networking in cloud environments; Corent Technology's Multi-Tenant Server, which helps service providers transform Web apps written in Java to SaaS offerings; and Kaavo's IMOD, a cloud-management software product that automates deployment and service-level management across public, private, and hybrid clouds.

 

To help you diagnose application performance problems in both standard and cloud environments, Midrange Performance Group provides Performance Navigator, a PC-based diagnostic tool for IBM i. Similarly, GiAPA offers the Global iSeries Application Performance Analyzer, a server-based app that collects application performance data every 15 seconds.

 

Application service providers (ASPs) for IBM i offer SaaS software. A partial listing of such companies can be found in the MC Press Buyer's Guide  and represent three varieties. Specialist ASPs provide a single application or a group of closely related ones. Vertical ASPs focus on applications for a specific vertical market. Enterprise ASPs provide a spectrum of applications useful for a wide range of businesses. Specialist ASPs include JDA Software Group, Inc. (supply chain reporting), Lawson Software (ERP), and SAP (ERP). Vertical ASPs include DPS, Inc. (distribution), Fiserv, Inc. (financial processing), and MICROS-Retail (retail). Enterprise ASPs include Aktion Associates, i365 (business continuity), Contemporary Computer Services, Inc. (CCSI), Infocrossing, and Tango/04 Computing Group.

 

Other than IBM, companies offering consolidation help include resellers and managed services providers such as Abacus Solutions, ABC Services, Able-One Systems, Aktion Associates, CAS Severn, Competitive Support Options, Key Information Systems, Mainline Information Systems, Performance Data Resources, and Vibrant Technologies. 

as/400, os/400, iseries, system i, i5/os, ibm i, power systems, 6.1, 7.1, V7, V6R1

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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