Power Systems Division: A New Unit, i5/OS and iCluster Included
November 12, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
When IBM broke the former System i division into two pieces in July, it did more than create two separate business units focused on different kinds of computing accounts. It also brought together a new stack of operating systems and related systems software that is the key to driving sales in both the Business Systems division–comprised of the entry System i 515, 520, 525, and 550 servers–and the Power Systems division–the result of the merger of the System p AIX server business and the high-end System i 570 and 595 machines.
Historically in the systems and server racket, the coupling between an operating system and its underlying hardware is so tight that the server units of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and its myriad components (Compaq, Digital, Tandem, and HP), and many, many now defunct companies controlled their operating systems. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Companies that only supply operating systems–Microsoft with Windows, the various incarnations of SCO with Unix and once upon a time Linux, Novell with NetWare and Linux, and of course, Red Hat–have no hardware divisions. But if you have ever wondered why the software divisions at the big IT suppliers do not control the development of their operating systems and key systems software, this is why. Having said that, at IBM, Software Group certainly gets credit for operating system and integrated middleware sales for the Power-based server line, as well as for mainframe platforms. But it doesn’t control the development of that software.
In the wake of the System i line being broken up this past summer, the development of the i5/OS operating system, its integrated DB2/400 database, and other licensed programs that are part of the i5/OS bundle were put into the Power Systems division, where all of the software and hardware labs for Power-based machines from IBM are located. The Business Systems division that owns the low-end of the System i product line is not responsible for the development of any software, as far as we can tell. It is more of a marketing organization than a development and marketing organization, but Marc Dupaquier, general manager of this division that is dedicated to the creation of products and services to be sold to small and medium businesses, has not yet talked about what product development, if any, his division does.
As it turns out, IBM has created a Power Systems Software unit within the Power Systems division. And Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for that division took some time during his briefing with me concerning the new JS22 Power6-based blade servers and AIX 6.1 announcements from last week to talk about the new software unit and how he is organizing it. The foundation of the pyramid of software that runs on Power boxes is, of course, the Power servers, which these days means a mix of Power4, Power4, Power5, Power5+, and Power6 servers for current releases of the i5/OS, AIX, and Linux operating systems; the combined bases of System i and System p servers, including their predecessors, probably numbers 600,000 to 700,000 machines. My guess is that there are around 400,000 OS/400 and i5/OS servers, and maybe 200,000 to 300,000 AIX boxes. Both bases are undergoing massive server consolidation at the moment, thanks to virtualization.
Which brings us to the bottom layer of bricks in the Power Systems Software pyramid that Handy described to me: the Virtualization Engine hypervisor on top of Power-based iron. Formally, this hypervisor does not have a name on the System i because it is bundled in (like the DB2/400 database doesn’t have a name and we gave it one) and is called Advanced Power Virtualization on System p boxes. (Maybe we should call it Hypervisor/400 then, just to be a smart-alek? This makes sense because this hypervisor was created by IBM Rochester in the late 1990s, launched in 1999 as a commercial product running logical partitions with OS/400 and Linux inside–long before AIX could be virtualized enough to be put on a hypervisor.) Anyway, the hypervisor is the bottom of the pyramid, and one of the areas where IBM continues to invest, and uses it to differentiate its Power servers from competitor’s products. This is also where Live Partition Mobility, a feature in Power6 hardware that allows logical partitions running AIX and Linux to be moved from one physical machine to another one, lives in the Power software framework.
This live migration capability for logical partitions would obviously be a very cool thing for i5/OS shops, too, but as far as I know, IBM was not planning to offer this feature on the System i platform. But, now that the Power Systems Software unit exists, and IBM is getting some feedback from customers that this might be very useful for disaster recovery as well as for the elimination of planned downtime for server and software upgrades, Big Blue is apparently giving it a second thought. “We are looking at supporting Live Partition Mobility on i5/OS,” says Handy. “I think that we will do it, but all I can say is that we are looking into it.”
The next layer up in the pyramid is the operating systems that run on Power, which today include i5/OS, AIX, and Linux, and perhaps someday soon, a Power-variant of the open source Solaris Unix operating system. This is also the software layer in the Power Systems Software unit that includes the DB2/400 database and the 5250 green-screen protocol for feeding RPG and COBOL applications.
One step above the operating system in the Power Systems Software pyramid is the high availability clustering software layer, which includes IBM’s HACMP clustering software for AIX, which is based on a program created by the former H.A. Technical Solutions. HATS was acquired by OS/400 HA clustering expert Lakeview Technology in November 2003, and in June 2007, Lakeview was acquired by long-time rival Vision Solutions. This area also includes IBM’s homegrown Cluster Services Manager software, a kicker to HACMP that supports both AIX and Linux on Power and Linux on X64 servers. And starting January 1 of next year, it will also include the iCluster high availability clustering software that IBM gained through its $161 million acquisition of DataMirror back in July. While IBM was keen on DataMirror because it wanted to make use of its data replication software, Handy says that IBM is still selling iCluster and has every intention of doing so in the future. But this product is being moved from Software Group over to Systems and Technology Group.
The top point of the Power Systems Software unit is security, some of which is in the operating systems and some of which is layered on top. This security area is where IBM is categorizing its new Live Application Mobility software for AIX 6.1, which we knew as Workload Partitions, or WPARs, during its development phase. This WPAR software creates what are commonly called containers or virtual private servers, which are a kind of software wrapper around applications that isolates them even as they share a single operating system kernel and file system. (It is a semi-logical partition, I suppose.) This capability is provided through a new program called Workload Partition Manager, which is available for AIX 6.1 running on any pSeries or System p server running Power4 through Power6 processors.
Up until now, IBM has hinted that WPARs are not going to be part of i5/OS, since OS/400 and i5/OS have subsystems, which provide similar functionality. But they were hinting this was before the Power Systems division and its new software unit were created. Which means IBM could change its mind and offer WPAR functionality for a future release of i5/OS.