Power Systems: A better virtualization and big data platform than x86

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled x86s yearning to be replaced with something better — RISC-based technology for the heavy lifting you need but didn't think you could afford.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

When it comes to squeezing out the last bit of performance from hardware, some see virtualization as the answer to the call. And for the most part, it is the answer. Server hardware is notoriously underutilized, but virtualization has also answered that call with its more efficient hardware utilization ratios. But what happens when you reach your utilization thresholds and performance begins to suffer? You add another x86 system or more to balance your workloads and to bring performance back to an acceptable level. What if there were a better way to add capacity, a better way to manage hardware partitioning and a better way to guarantee uptime?

There is a better way and it has nothing to do with x86 virtualization. But it's still virtualization, from the people who invented it.

It's called PowerVM virtualization on Power Systems (PDF). And it's brought to you by IBM, the creator of virtualization technology.

Now, you're probably assuming that such technology comes at a price. Well, you're right, it does, but it's much lower than you think. It's also not really about the cost of the hardware and software as much as it is about the cost per workload of the hardware and software. Let that sink in for a minute and continue reading when you've wrapped your head around the concept that what you're really buying for your virtual infrastructure is capacity — capacity to handle workloads. In practical terms, compare virtual machine densities for x86 architecture systems and Power Systems. I think you'll find that your cost per VM is significantly lower with the Power Systems. You'll also find a significant boost in performance as well.

Typically, we think of virtual machines (VMs) and VM densities per unit of hardware, with that unit of hardware being a virtual machine host system and that's fine. It's hard not to think of virtualization in those terms. However, you should also consider the following factors when attempting to compare apples (Power Systems) to oranges (x86 Technology):

  • Risk

  • Agility or time to market

  • Total cost of ownership

  • Service stability and reliability

  • Staffing needs for management

  • System efficiency

  • Satisfaction

  • Scalability.

In fact, there's a report that is the result of a study performed by Solitaire Interglobal Ltd. The study spans 61,320 customers and compares various virtualization technologies on the eight business metrics listed above.

My interest in IBM's new generation of Power Systems for big data and virtualization for SMBs came about as a result of a conversation I had with Colin Parris, GM, Power Systems at IBM. Parris' knowledge, excitement over the product line, and my many questions made us both miss a technical presentation that followed our interview. I blame myself.

The key points from this interview yielded the following information about Power Systems:

  • Minimum partition size as small as 1/10 of a processor with granularity of 1/100 of a processor

  • Automatic CPU adjustments based on load

  • Dynamic reconfiguration without rebooting

  • Dedicated and virtual devices in guest operating systems

  • Virtualize network and storage for guest operating systems

  • Active Memory Sharing

  • Live Partition Mobility between systems provides exceptional capability for the user consolidating homogeneous and heterogeneous workloads

  • Separation of physical processors from logical processors

  • Flexible hardware resource allocation based on the needs of high-priority virtual machines

  • Partitions can range from 10 percent of a CPU core up to 256 cores on the Power 795.

And since big data and analytics are on the minds of just about everyone in business these days, Power Systems are at the leading edge of those technologies as well. Check out these IBM Powercast videos to hear from actual clients and their experiences with IBM Power Systems. These view interviews discuss how IBM's Power Systems have propelled their small businesses into the "big time" by leveraging technology, specifically analytics, that, prior to IBM's new Power Systems for SMBs lineup release, was only available to large businesses.

There is sometimes a fear of what's called "vendor lock-in" with solutions such as IBM's Power Systems and Power VMs. Well, fear not, freedom fighters: IBM's Power Systems also run VMware (PDF), Red Hat Enterprise Linux (PDF), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (PDF), and, of course, IBM's own AIX.

IBM's Power Systems for SMBs make sense for the heavy lifting (big data analytics and virtualization) that you require but were previously unable to afford or that you thought somehow were bound to x86 architecture. And while you're transitioning, IBM's PureFlex systems allow you to mix x86 architecture systems with Power Systems and manage them from the same application.

If you're a current Power Systems customer, I'd like to hear from you and how the transition from x86 systems to Power Systems has boosted your computing power for future posts.

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