As the use of virtual machine and logical partition hypervisors becomes more common at data centres, the hypervisors themselves are rapidly becoming commodities.
They are not quite yet commodities, as reflected in the prices of IBM's Virtualization Engine or VMware's ESX Server, and are certainly not free, but it is clear that over the long haul, the software that gets layered onto such hypervisors is going to be where money is made and where vendors are going to try to distinguish themselves in terms of the functionality they offer.
IBM has been trying to make it easier for customers with its Power-based machines to deploy Virtualization Engine logical partitions, LPARs, and to manage them. Last year, both the System p and System i product lines were equipped with a graphical user interface tool called the Integrated Virtualization Manager that allowed shops that wanted to deploy Linux partitions on their AIX or i5/OS machines to do so without needing a Hardware Management Console, which is a special external Linux machine that controls the Virtualization Engine hypervisor.
Parallel to this move toward a common virtualization technology (at least on Power-based servers), IBM has been extending its X86-based Systems Director tool so it can manage i5/OS, AIX, Linux, and eventually mainframe servers, giving systems administrators a common interface and a common set of tools with which to manage these very different platforms that all have a long history of distinct management tools.
Last week, IBM began previewing some other changes it has in store for Virtualization Engine and Systems Director, which will entail bringing the two together to make it easier to manage LPARs and related technologies on Power servers. The upcoming release of Systems Director Virtualization Manager, V1.2, is expected in the third quarter, and it will include a common set of interfaces that will allow system administrators to see the utilisation of processor cores, main memory, and I/O bandwidth for storage and networks in a consistent manner across all operating systems.
Creating partitions with either the HMC or the IVM tool changes how these partitions can talk to the outside world, but with the V1.2 release of Systems Director Virtualization Manager, this tool will be able to see utilisation for LPARs created by either tool. The update will also include hooks to look into the Virtual I/O Server that sits on i5 and p5 boxes and virtualises I/O links to logical partitions.
Not all of the tweaks in the upcoming Systems Director Virtualization Manager are aimed at Power-based systems. The update will also have links to IBM's Storage Configuration Manager, which runs on X64-based systems running Windows or Linux. Another feature, called Virtual Availability Manager, within the Systems Director Virtualization Manager tool will allow customers who deploy a Xen hypervisor on their Linux-on-X64 servers to create what IBM is calling a 'high-availability farm' that can be used to rehost virtual machine partitions that are taken out by crashes.
IBM said it will also be offering secure, live relocation of Xen partitions with little to no downtime, something it called an industry first. However, both XenSource, the creator of Xen, and Virtual Iron, which created its own hypervisor and management tools and then switched to Xen for its hypervisor, claim to offer live migration for Xen partitions. The secure part is what IBM must be focusing on, and the company says it has created software that has checkpointing, compatibility checking, and rollback capabilities that make migrating Xen partitions safe.
IBM is also working on live migration of something called a Workload Partition, or WPAR, which is expected in the future AIX 6.1 (formerly known as 5.4) and the future i5/OS V6R1. This is not the same thing as migrating an LPAR, which is what IBM said last summer it was working on, but seems to be more like a virtual private server. With LPARs, the hypervisor slices contain a full operating system and software stack and you have to move all of that when you migrate the partition. With a virtual private server, each partition looks like a whole machine in terms of application isolation and security, but they are running on a common file system and, often, on a common operating system kernel. Migrating the stuff running inside the operating system sandbox is not nearly as hard as moving an entire LPAR and all of its virtualised resources.
Another piece of the upcoming Systems Director Virtualization Manager is called Virtual Image Management, and this is similar to the jukebox feature in VMware's Infrastructure 3 tools that ride on top of its ESX Server 3 hypervisor. This image manager will catalog system templates and server images for X86, X64, and Power servers, and deploy them as needed.
This updated Systems Director tool to manage virtualisation can obviously plug into the set of patch management and provisioning tools that bear the Tivoli name at IBM.