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IBM Revs Up its 'Virtualization Engine'

IBM Wednesday launched an initiative to broaden its "e-business on-demand" charge with new mainframe-like software and technology for servers and storage.

Called the IBM Virtualization Engine, the new products combine components from IBM's Tivoli provisioning tools, WebSphere Grid capability, and IBM Director Multi-Platform for a utility computing model. The company said system administrators will be able to partition their UNIX or other systems like a mainframe, running as many as ten servers per microprocessor and "clone" configurations, to new systems added to the mix.

IBM said the software has the potential of turning a four-processor system into a "40-way" system running one or multiple operating system types or versions at the same time. Such benchmarks are prompted by consistent reports that say utilization rates run as low as 15 percent in UNIX and Windows environments.

IBM said it would begin rolling out its new software suite over the remainder of the year starting with its new iSeries servers and upcoming POWER 5-based servers in the second quarter and then expanding the platform to other new IBM systems.

"Previously, there wasn't really one way for administrators to manage these systems. They would have to use an enterprise management tool from BMC or perhaps parts of Tivoli that could do some things," Tim Dougherty, IBM eServer BladeCenter director, told internetnews.com. "Virtualization Engine is focused on the whole and keeping it simple."

Big Blue may have been first on the scene with its vision of "on-demand" or the popularized notion of utility computing, but has been lagging in the realm of a simplified set of software to run it all.

But while rivals HP with its Adaptive Enterprise platform and Sun Microsystems with its N1 strategy have opted to fast track their virtualization and provisioning software through acquisition, IBM has taken three years to develop a native version based partly on its mainframe software and its Director Multi-Platform.

"It's hard stuff and it takes invention," Dougherty said. "Re-coding from the Z-series takes some work. From the hardware and partitioning side, we've used the mainframe information that we've used for years and there are many, many lines of code that need to get moved. The difference is that IBM's strategy is better at managing mixed environments of IBM and non-IBM systems."

The "Engine" is broken up into Virtualization Engine System Technology, which handles CPU partitioning, virtual I/O, virtual memory and virtual LAN; and Virtualization Engine System Services, which covers servers and storage infrastructure.

The suite for servers will include workload management software, IBM's grid toolkit, systems provisioning, virtualization console and IBM Director Multi-platform. The suite for storage will include IBM's SAN Volume Controller, SAN File System, management code and its Productivity Center. Dougherty said not all of the pieces are in place and IBM will not guarantee support for all systems. As a general rule, he said IBM does not have the capability to test anything 10-years or older.

IBM said its Intel-based systems will use third party technologies to deliver partitioning services.

As for upgrades, systems purchased later this year will automatically come bundled with the software suite and will be upgraded automatically through an automated function Dougherty said. The software can be purchased separately but prices won't be announced for sometime as at some point does the licensing model may change and will vary between systems.

Dougherty said IBM will be working with their major partners in the next few months to help roll out the software beyond IBM systems. The company is expected to demonstrate the platform's capabilities during an analyst conference Wednesday din Palisades, N.Y.