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Virtualization education a VAR must-have

When a client asks for your virtualization expertise, you'd best be ready to provide it. Ken Milberg explains why and where to spend your server and storage virtualization training budget.

It's around that special time of year again. We're in the fourth quarter and the end of the fiscal year is approaching. Companies are finishing up their IT spending before they lose their budgeted money. Senior management has started the latest rounds of layoffs to help increase the size of their stock (yes, I've been there). As VARs, what should you be thinking about -- besides finding contract workers to augment the staff of IT departments undergoing their latest downsize? Specifically, from a proactive technology standpoint, what should we be getting ready for in 2007?

The answer is virtualization. As server consolidation projects continue to sprout, virtualization has become a critical part of their success. Among other benefits, this technology enables you to maximize the use of hardware resources, thereby minimizing the cost of migrating to new systems. It allows you to scale vertically as opposed to just horizontally. As vendors announce new hardware, you need to get trained on how to best to implement that hardware.

IBM's Advanced Power Virtualization (APV) is the driving force behind Big Blue's POWER5 technology. APV helps decrease total cost of ownership (TCO), while allowing the use of shared I/O resources.

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A major feature available to pSeries servers through POWER5 is APV's micropartitioning, which allows you to create multiple virtual partitions within a single processor. Each one is tailored to the resource requirements of a particular application based on business needs and priorities. Through LPAR micropartitioning, it allows customers to mirror the mainframe world by taking advantage of unused clock cycles and utilizing as much CPU capacity as possible. Without partitioning, processing resources are typically highly underutilized. SMP partitioning today traditionally requires allocation of one or more entire microprocessors to each partition supported. Micropartitions can be tailored to the demands of individual applications, in increments as little as one-tenth of a processor. The results are increased, productive use of system resources, higher system productivity and lower TCO.

Another strong feature is Virtual I/O. Virtual I/O (VIO) allows a single I/O adapter to be used by multiple logical partitions on the same machine (managed system). This gives you the opportunity to consolidate I/O resources and minimize the number of I/O adapters required. From a financial standpoint, the use of VIO also provides a more economic model by using physical resources more efficiently through shared resources. As each partition typically requires one I/O slot for disk attachment and another one for network attachment, this definitely puts a limit on the number of partitions a customer can have. To overcome these physical limitations, I/O resources can be shared using VIO servers (VIOS).

Here is a summary of APV features:

  • Micropartitioning
  • SMT Multithreading support
  • Virtual SCSI Server
  • Shared Ethernet
  • Partition Load Manager

Perhaps the most impressive part of the POWER5 architecture is that it has been optimized to run Linux, as well as IBM's proprietary Unix and AIX. Unlike other RISC-based hardware, IBM has fully implemented most functionality of the POWER5 architecture -- including support of APV -- into its Linux support. This gives the company the flexibility to run either Unix or Linux (or both) on the same box.

What does all this mean to you and why should you care? Someone needs to be able to configure all this and to be the customer's support line to this technology. In this scenario, as a VAR, your role will be to provide value to the customer by helping them optimize this technology at a high level. This will require you to send staff for training and become experts in the field. Make sure your engineers also receive the appropriate certifications, which will also give you the credibility you need to showcase your skills to a client.

VMware is another virtualization technology that you should also fully understand. Though it can't compare to IBM's APV purely from a technology standpoint, because it is a product that can be used on commodity PCs, it is much more widely utilized. That means more opportunities for you to sell yourself as virtualization experts. Bottom line is that virtualization, in storage as well as in systems, should continue to build off its momentum in 2006 to be the most important technology in the market in 2007. When the client asks for it, you must be ready to implement solutions appropriate for them.

About the author: Kenneth Milberg is a systems consultant with his own independent consulting firm, Unix-Linux Solutions. He has 15 years' worth of experience with Unix and Linux systems, as well as broad technical and functional experience with AIX, HP, SCO, Linux and Solaris. Milberg holds certifications with IBM (IBM Certified Systems Expert -- eServer p5 and pSeries Enterprise Technical Support AIX 5L V5.3 & IBM Certified Specialist –HACMP), SUN (SCNA,SCSA), HP (HP Certified –HP-UX administration) Cisco (CCNA) and Oracle (OCP-DBO).

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