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Powerful Linux virtualization software: IBM System p and PowerVM Lx86

Service provider takeaway: Service providers can drive server consolidation in a big way with a combination of IBM's System p midrange server and the company's PowerVM Lx86 Linux virtualization

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As a service provider, you should always be looking for ways to help your customers with their pain points and leverage technology to reduce costs. You should also be familiar with server consolidation, since almost every project today involves consolidation to some degree. IBM's PowerVM Lx86 software enables 32-bit x86 Linux applications to run on the company's System p midrange servers, offering a powerful means to consolidate your customers' servers while reducing their total cost of ownership (TCO).

What is PowerVM Lx86 exactly? PowerVM Lx86 is IBM's Linux virtualization software that's tightly integrated with the company's hardware. It enables Linux x86 applications to run out of the box without an actual port to the Power architecture, and it's now a component of IBM's overall midrange virtualization solution, PowerVM.

PowerVM Lx86 supports the installation and operation of 32-bit x86 Linux applications on IBM System p servers with a Power5, Power5+ or Power6 chip, by creating a virtual x86 Linux application environment, dynamically translating x86 instructions to the IBM Power architecture's instruction set. And IBM's BladeCenter servers that use Power chips (the JS20, JS21 or JS22) are also enabled for PowerVM Lx86. During its beta period, it was known as System p Application Virtual Environment (AVE) for x86 Linux; the name changed only recently.

If you pitch your customers on IBM System p with PowerVM Lx86 Linux virtualization software, the first question they may ask is, "Why System p?" The answer is that unlike commodity-based PCs, System p servers are RISC-based, scale extremely well and have extraordinary performance and reliability. The product family's "RAS" features -- or reliability, availability and scalability -- have roots in IBM's System z mainframe architecture.

IBM's PowerVM virtualization technology for the System p line (formerly called Advanced Power Virtualization) enables creation of either Linux or the IBM flavor of Unix (AIX) partitions. But prior to PowerVM Lx86 Linux virtualization software, the only way to run a Linux application on a System p server was either to purchase a copy of the application that was already compiled natively in the Power architecture or to port the x86 application yourself -- not an easy undertaking.

While more than 3,000 applications have been ported to the Power architecture, prior to PowerVM Lx86, any Linux application not ported to the environment would simply not run. The net result of this was that using System p for server and application consolidation was very limited. With the advent of PowerVM Lx86, virtually any Linux application will work out of the box in the Power architecture -- opening up the doors of consolidation to virtually anyone who wants to migrate from commodity PCs to a more powerful, stable and secure environment.

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Server consolidation is a critical project in many data centers. Many companies are looking to cut back on their large distributed Linux server farms to save on energy and power cooling costs; cut the data center footprint; improve manageability of systems; and deliver performance, scalability and provisioning benefits. By scaling up vertically -- rather than out horizontally -- customers gain all these benefits. By reducing the footprint of your customers' servers, you lower their energy and cooling costs, increase resource utilization, lower the cost of hardware maintenance and, perhaps most importantly, dramatically cut back on the number of software licenses needed. It is not surprising to hear of large customers with a server consolidation return on investment (ROI) in the millions due to the consolidation of software licenses alone.

With System p and PowerVM Lx86 Linux virtualization software, you can literally consolidate hundreds of physical Linux servers into logical partitions running on one or two System p servers. It's a very powerful consolidation. If these computers were in the livery business, the System p with PowerVM Lx86 would be a 40-person stretch Hummer, and a commodity PC with VMware or Xen would be a Lincoln Town Car. They can still get people where they need to go, but you'd need 20 Town Cars to transport the same number of people (and you'd have to do maintenance on all those Town Cars, pay for parking, manage their leases, etc.). Through PowerVM, you can grant a partition as little as one-tenth of a CPU, a perfect fit for a large Web server farm. Running PowerVM Lx86 on a Linux partition (which can be either Red Hat Enterprise Linux or SUSE Linux Enterprise Server), you can literally run any of the tens of thousands of x86 Linux applications that are already running on commodity PCs.

To become a solution provider for PowerVM Lx86 Linux virtualization software, check out IBM's business partner resources at the company's PartnerWorld portal. You can partner with an IBM business partner and/or consider becoming an IBM business partner yourself. IBM is making it very easy today for service providers to develop virtualization infrastructure for customers and has many incentives for providers in the Linux market space. This technology is an incredible innovation and has the capability to bring Linux to the enterprise like no other technology to date.

About the author

Ken Milberg heads a consulting firm, Unix-Linux Solutions. He has more than 20 years of experience with Unix and Linux systems, as well as broad technical and functional experience with AIX, HP, SCO and Solaris.


This was first published in April 2008

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