Volume 5, Number 9 -- March 5, 2008

NEC Adds Dynamic Hardware Partitioning for Windows Server 2008

Published: March 5, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

In a data center world that is going increasingly virtual, there seems to be less and less talk about hardware. But hardware--processors, memory, disk drives, network adapters, and so forth--are what makes virtual machines important, and it is easy to forget that innovation is also required on the hardware front.

As part of the Windows Server 2008 rollout last week, Japanese server maker NEC, which sells a line of X64 and Itanium based servers called the Express 5800 series, announced a new dynamic hardware partitioning capability for its Itanium-based servers when they are running Windows Server 2008.

The NEC Express 5800/1320Xf machines (try saying that name fast three times in a row) have incorporated microcode for years that allow them to create hardware partitions, blocking off processors, memory, and I/O in an electrically isolated area within the box. Big Unix boxes such as the Superdome from Hewlett-Packard or the Starfire 10000s and the Sun Fire 15K and 20K boxes from Sun Microsystems also offer similar hardware partitions with electric isolation. Mainframes from IBM, Unisys, and others (including NEC, Hitachi, and Fujitsu/Amdahl also offered hardware partitioning, and so did the AlphaServer kickers to Digital Equipment's VAXes. Well, now Windows boxes have similar capability.

So, in a virtualized operating environment, where a hypervisor rides above the iron and abstracts it for multiple operating systems that are isolated from each other logically (not at a lower electrical level), who needs dynamic hardware partitioning? Well, anyone who wants to take a box down for maintenance or in any other way reconfigure the hardware. That's who.

The dynamic partitioning for Windows Server 2008 was created jointly by NEC and Microsoft, and it allows IT managers to add Itanium processors or memory to the system while applications are running without requiring the box to be rebooted. Moreover, as components begin to fail in a system, they can be isolated, and then software can be moved off them, the components can be replaced and tested, and then the iron can be reactivated to run the software again. The NEC Express 5800/1000 series of Itanium machines can also use partitions to carve up multiple, independent instances of Windows on the box (without requiring a hypervisor, which is a good thing since neither VMware's ESX Server or Citrix Systems' XenServer run on Itanium at the moment. And neither does the upcoming Hyper-V hypervisor for Windows Server 2008.

NEC has been demonstrating its dynamic hardware partitioning capabilities for Longhorn Server since December 2006, when beta 2 of the software that became Windows Server 2008 first became available.


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Editor: Alex Woodie
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
Shannon O'Donnell, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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