An understanding of both virtualization and blades and the ways they can work together is critical to improving data center operations and mitigating increased power costs.
By Pete Elliot
Blade servers are making deep inroads into the architecture of data centers across the U.S. Meanwhile, virtualization technology is being rapidly applied to both servers and storage across all platforms.
The unification (IBM's term of preference) of IBM's Systems i and p product groups into the new and faster Power Systems group finally arrived last April. When IBM's road show on the POWER6 chip-based Power Server came to the Los Angeles area, David Black, systems consultant for IBM, described how the i and p servers were merged into the new family of IBM Power Servers.
"With the new Power Servers, you have the ability to run the new i 6.1 operating system on a Power BladeCenter along with Linux and UNIX," announced Black. BladeCenter is IBM's term for its entry into the growing market of blade server appliances that offer narrow-profile servers to conserve space and power and generate less heat. IBM's BladeCenters run on the IBM System x for now. The two BladeCenter models announced with Power Server are the JS12 with two processors and the JS22 with four processors and twice the micro-partitions.
All models of the Power Server will run the AIX OS, the IBM i 6.1 OS (formerly i5/OS), the Linux OS, or any combination of those. Improvements include hardware acceleration, RAS (reliability, availability, and serviceability) features for near-continuous availability, and IBM's new "green" look that features low power usage.
With IBM BladeCenters, you can consolidate Power Servers and Intel processor-based servers onto a single engineering chassis, leveraging the management, space, and power savings provided by IBM BladeCenter solutions.
Here's IBM's announcement of the Power Servers, delivered at the 2008 COMMON Conference this past April.
Staying with efficiency and power improvements in IT, a number of factors are driving the growing adoption rate of virtualization. Enterprises often move to a virtualized environment for one of the following reasons:
- Growth: to better manage infrastructure growth, including multiple servers
- Consolidation: for better data-center space management
- Testing: to develop safer testing environments
An interesting marriage has occurred recently: the melding of these two technologies--applying server virtualization technology to BladeCenter resources. This promises to bring great efficiencies to the data center in 2008.
A Match Made in Heaven
Blade servers and virtualization are often seen as competitive or alternative approaches to server consolidation. However, virtualization technology can also be effectively applied to blade servers. Virtualizing blades is a new development that promises significant benefits.
As an efficient method to harness servers together, blade servers can effectively serve as the hardware platform for technologies like grid computing, with virtualization making better use of the underlying hardware resources.
The primary drawback of blade servers is that each blade usually has only one or two processors. The primary drawback of virtualization is that it can add computing overhead to the application environment. Here's the good news: The use of virtualization with blade servers allows enterprises to maximize the advantages of each technology and minimize their drawbacks. IBM has recently partnered with VMware, world leaders in virtualization software, to help companies test the partitioning technology of VMware. IBM introduced PowerVM with Power Systems to support virtualization between AIX, Linux, and the IBM i operating systems. For more on how IBM is bringing its BladeCenters and virtualization technology together, see this InformationWeek article.
Virtualization is becoming an important technology for managing the IT infrastructure, and enterprises are becoming increasingly clear about its benefits. It isn't hard to implement. The tools are tested and solid. Little risk is associated with it. It's no longer viewed as experimental and in fact is being implemented in a majority of the larger mid-sized and large data centers.
Virtualization can play a valuable role in creating fault-tolerant and highly available IT infrastructures that take advantage of the intrinsic capabilities of blade servers.
The combination of virtualization and blade servers should be of interest to organizations wishing to gain the advantages of increased processing power and less space with blades, as well as the benefits of virtualization technology to better manage infrastructure growth, achieve data center consolidation, and develop robust and less costly testing environments. As power costs increase and the availability of power becomes a serious issue, the importance of reducing space, cooling costs, and power consumption in the data center becomes paramount. Applying virtualization technology to blades will contribute significantly wherever power is an issue. IBM has even established a Web section on conserving power in the data center.
We're now at the end of Virtualization 1.0, essentially the era in which virtualization technology focused on consolidation. Our industry is now poised to embrace Virtualization 2.0, which has been defined by industry analyst groups like IDG and the Gartner Group as the Virtualization Management Era. The future focus for virtualization will answer some important questions: Once you have implemented virtualized environments for servers and storage, how do you manage these environments? What are the various tools and services you're going to need to help get the job done? We expect virtualization in the 2.0 era to focus on important virtualization management issues rather than simple consolidation of IT resources. Blades will play an important part in this effort.
For IT consulting companies, systems integration will become the dominant opportunity to contribute to this trend as the combined blades and virtualization technologies enter the IT mainstream. Consultants help IT shops assess the relevance of blade servers and virtualization to their needs. Self-assessment is a good place for anyone concerned with data center efficiency to start.
Blades and Virtualization
The best IBM BladeCenter configurations fit perfectly with a comprehensive vision of virtualization to create a broad continuum of logical resources. Virtualization creates manageable logical resources from pools of physical resources freed from their physical constraints. It provides an abstraction of a logical device from the physical device. The type of servers or storage being run becomes less critical. This provides greater flexibility in component selection and swapping.
Virtualization will also drive much greater levels of utilization for hardware, lowering the overall cost of computing and improving productivity. It allows administrators to leverage new high-availability and disaster recovery capabilities to create business resiliency. And the real benefit is that the overall manageability of the IT infrastructure can be improved when blades are combined with virtualization.
An understanding of both virtualization and blades and the ways they can work together is critical to improving data center operations and mitigating increased power costs in the future.