IBM: Virtualisation is the real deal

Summary:IBM’s head of virtualisation is on a mission to spread the word about a technology that is reshaping the structure of IT around the world

...simplify it and virtualise it, that gives them more flexibility there.

The third motivator is freedom of choice. Just as Java and Linux allowed applications to become un-tethered from specific platforms. It used to be that if a client chose a particular application that choice then mandated a certain operating system, a certain database, a certain hardware platform, certain storage devices. So there had to be an investment in those tools. Java and Linux helped break some of those bindings and then it allowed us to leverage virtualisation to eliminate physical devices and consolidate some of those applications.

In the storage world, virtualisation is doing much the same thing. Now storage devices can be mixed and matched for the right job. So inexpensive hardware can be used when that is all that's required. You can have one administrative interface for your server and storage devices and train your users on that. This is as opposed to saying, "Well, I've got to buy EMC because all my users are trained in EMC, all my scripts are for EMC, all my replication services are EMC's, etc."

Virtualisation allows a lot more flexibility and forces the vendors to compete on features, functions, quality of service, support, etc — which is how it should be.

You mention virtualisation and most people are likely to immediately think of VMware. How do you, as IBM, get their attention?
First, we are happy to talk about VMware. We are one of their largest distributors and we have a lot of clients using it. Often we will talk to them about the benefits of doing virtualisation across your systems.

There are very few clients who only have Intel processors and systems. Most clients have a mixture of at least two architectures. So being able to do partitioning across all the platforms is important. Then you combine that with the ability to make multiple copies of a single instance and then consolidate that in one place. So, for example, take 10 copies of an Exchange server and stick that on a single server. And more and more clients are seeing the advantages of taking different topologies and putting them into a virtualised server.

Now these are capabilities that we have been offering for years on the mainframe and can offer on different platforms and they are things that IBM can do that other vendors cannot.

What is important is to be able to host multiple environments — AIX, Linux, Windows, etc — and to have multiple applications and have those applications talk to each other, without rewriting; to be able to talk IP within the server without having to go outside into the physical network because if you can do that you can get some substantial security benefits and some substantial savings.

So our mid-range servers — the iSeries and zSeries — have the ability to talk IP over memory and we have lots and lots of clients who are doing just exactly that. They are collapsing their entire infrastructure into a single system. They are not just taking those 10 mail servers, those 10 file and print servers and putting them into a larger Intel server, but taking file and print servers and Web application servers, database and transaction servers and hosting all of those inside of a single system. And then, in addition to the performance benefits you get the greater utilisation because all of those servers can mix and match between partitions in a more effective way. And to make the systems more resilient you take one server and replicate it, as opposed to fifty servers.

What are the next steps in virtualisation?
Up to now, people have thought about virtualisation as taking lots of little things and linking them into one big thing and my point is, they are always thinking about similar things — lots of similar things. Not everybody wants to do that, not everybody wants to take everything and put it inside a single system. So the next challenge is how can you take a lot of little things and make them look like one big thing.

How can you make your distributed, heterogeneous servers and storage resources behave as if they are a mainframe? There is great value in that because it can have the same management capabilities, the same workload balancing, the end-to-end performance optimisation, the same service level agreements, the same security capabilities and so on.

Why didn't you buy VMware when you had the chance, before they were snapped up by EMC?
I won't answer that. But VMware is a good partner of ours; the way we work with them is twofold.

Firstly, as a technology distributor we make our Intel servers the best hardware platform for VMware.

Secondly, we can integrate a VMware partition into an Intel server — whether it be from us or someone else — and make it a key element within this distributed infrastructure.

There are other interesting technologies within the Intel space that support partitioning, Xen for instance, and we will support them as well.

We can see the innovative possibilities of virtualisation, but where does the innovation come from?
The innovation comes from the client. How can we help an automobile maker or an electronics manufacturer become more innovative? We can help them by simplifying and reducing the costs of their infrastructure, so they are able to put their time and their energy into new application development, new processes as opposed to managing the assets that they already have. We can help them by giving them this access under shared infrastructure. You cannot underestimate the value of being able to take the information and re-integrate the enterprise so that all of the information is available from all of the knowledge workers and is available to outside parties, etc.

How important is Linux and open source to your virtualisation strategy?
Forty percent of our mainframe customers are running Linux on the zSeries. The greatest penetration we every anticipated was 25 percent. Clients are finding new and innovative ways to deploy that technology just from living in close proximity to their business and picking up ideas.

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About

Colin has been a computer journalist for some 30 years having started in the business the same year that the IBM PC was launched, although the first piece he wrote was about computer audit. He was at one time editor of Computing magazine in London and prior to that held a number of editing jobs, including time spent at the late DEC Compu... Full Bio

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