IBM Targets SMBs With Virtualization Makeover

If VMware is to virtualization software what “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood is to country music, then IBM is Barbara Mandrell.

The boys (and girls) in Armonk, N.Y. were knee-deep in virtualization—on the mainframe— way back in the ’60s, long before VMware’s ESX Server and Virtual Infrastructure 3 made virtualization cool.

IBM on Tuesday dropped what it hopes will be its next big hit among small- and mid-sized businesses (SMB) when it announced something its calling PowerVM Express, an entry-level starter kit for smaller companies eager to start taking advantage of the considerable cost, power and time savings virtualization technology has already delivered to its enterprise brethren.

This entry-level product allows customers to create up to three partitions on a single physical server. PowerVM Express, along with IBM’s PowerVM Standard and PowerVM Enterprise editions, replace the company’s Advanced Power Virtualization (APV) offering and give customers the ability to run UNIX, Linux on IBM’s Power processor family, and now, Linux x86 binary applications unmodified without recompilation.

And, as a reminder that IBM’s no one-hit wonder, the new virtualization software offerings can be combined with Power6-powered System p servers and BladeCenter servers to give customers the ability to create up to 160 virtual partitions or server images in a single system.

“There are a variety of customer pain points we’re addressing with these new products,” Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM Power Systems,” said during a Tuesday conference call. “In uncertain economic times, it’s even more important for customers to reduce costs. Energy is a hot topic.

“Customers want to get more efficient with the energy they have, they want to consolidate and they want to improve the responsiveness of the systems and the people as they do it,” he said.

Along with the rebranding of its server consolidation products under the PowerVM umbrella, IBM introduced a cluster of new products for customers of all sizes.

Of particular interest to the SMB crowd — a market that both analysts and vendors contend will bring the lion’s share of growth in the next decade — is the new BladeCenter JS22 Express blade server, which features two dual-core Power6 chips and the BladeCenter JS21 Express blade which will now be supported in the BladeCenter S chassis.

This integration allows companies to run AIX, IBM’s UNIX operating system, Linux on Power or Linux x86 applications in the same environment.

For those customers partial to the datacenter-in-a-box option, IBM is now offering a fully customized, pre-configured JS21 or JS22 blades installed in a BladeCenter H chassis with System p servers and selected I/O and storage options all pre-installed in the same rack. The rack can be shipped wherever a customers needs it with all the servers, storage and AIX operating systems installed and pre-loaded.

In March, customers will be able to run a JS22 blade with the i5/OS operating environment in a BladeCenter H chassis. IBM plans to support JS22 blades with i5/OS in a BladeCenter S chassis sometime this summer.

“I think the stake in the ground that IBM is planting here is to help people remember that virtualization is not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research, told “Virtualization started with IBM’s mainframe long before virtualization was a gleam in the eye of the folks at VMware. The fact is, Power-based virtualization on System p UNIX has been very robust and well tested for several years now.”

IBM also unveiled a pair of new Power6-based UNIX servers primarily targeting SMB customers. Handy said the entry-level System p 520 Express and System p 550 Express, which will both become generally available in February, should entice mid-sized companies to abandon their Sun, HP or Microsoft hardware to take advantage of the both the enhanced processing speed and virtualization capabilities of these new offerings.

The p520 Express features one, two or four cores of 4.2 GHz Power6 processor and up to 64 GB of memory to migrate all those space-hogging CRM, ERP and logistic applications that customers so desperately want to virtualize.

The p550 Express has a maximum of eight cores with either a 3.5 or 4.2 Power6 chip and up to 256 GB of memory. It’s meant to be used as either mid-sized database server or an application server for business application—or both.

“A lot of people asked us why we put that much memory in a package,” Handy said. “As you do server consolidation, you’re consolidating memory footprints of many servers. It’s not the CPU performance that’s the limiting factor but the amount of memory they can put in it. It’s the bottleneck they’ve been facing when they’re consolidating x86 or UNIX servers.”

Last but not least, IBM also announced a new release of its i5/OS operating system, available in March, for SMB customers using its System i platform which includes support for its new JS22 blade servers.

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