Virtualization Adoption Skyrockets on Power Systems Iron
August 11, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
One of the side-effects of unifying the System i and System p Power-based server lines into a single Power Systems division is the unified statistics, when cut along the lines that IBM has been using to show Power Systems revenue increases, that Big Blue is putting out show a radical improvement in the adoption rate of its virtualization hypervisor among its customer base. Some of this growth is a trick of the numbers, but a lot of it is actual adoption of virtualization by an increasing number of AIX and i shops.
In conjunction with the LinuxWorld conference and expo being hosted last week in San Francisco, IBM decided it was a good time to remind everyone that the level of penetration of its PowerVM hypervisor–and its predecessors on the System i (that would be Virtualization Engine, embedded in OS/400 and i5/OS and supporting AIX and Linux partitions) and on the System p (that would be Advanced Power Virtualization, sold as an add-on to AIX or Linux)–compared to the rather anemic adoption of the much-hyped hypervisors that are available for the X64 platforms based on processor technology from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.
First, let’s take a look at the X64 data cited by IBM, which actually comes from a report generated by Gartner called Server Virtualization for X86: Trends, Best Practices, and Future, which was presented by analyst Tom Bittman at Gartner’s Infrastructure Operations and Management Summit back at the end of June. In that report, Gartner estimates that 150,000 X86 and X64 servers sold worldwide were equipped with virtualization hypervisors in all of 2007 against total shipments of such iron of 8,841,052 units, yielding a 1.7 percent penetration of virtualization hypervisors. That’s presumably including all of the hypervisors from VMware, Citrix Systems, Microsoft, Virtual Iron, and a handful of smaller players as well as the hypervisors embedded in the Linux distributions from Red Hat and Novell. This penetration rate of 1.7 percent only includes machines that shipped with the hypervisor, and does not try to ascertain how many of these machines might have had a hypervisor added separately. Other estimates I have seen show the penetration of hypervisors in the X86 and X64 installed base is somewhere around 7 percent, but that includes a lot of old iron running older hypervisors.
Now, contrast these figures with those of the Power Systems line. Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM’s Power Systems division, culled IBM’s data from its worldwide configurators, which track sales of systems directly to customers and those managed by resellers and other business partners, and he compared the second quarter of 2007, which looked at Power5 and Power5+ System p machinery with APV installed versus total System p sales, and contrasted that with the Power6-based Converged System p line (which includes high-end System i machines as well as any of the new Power6-based Power System i boxes). In the second quarter of 2007, the adoption rate of APV on System p boxes was 21 percent, but in the second quarter of 2008, the adoption rate grew to 64 percent on Power Systems machines with AIX, i, or Linux installed and running PowerVM.
These comparisons are not apples-to-apples, since the Virtualization Engine hypervisor, which differs only in feature codes and branding from APV, was not a separately tracked item in the System i hypervisor–just like the integrated relational database isn’t. So IBM has no idea how many System i shops are using logical partitions. The consensus these days is that well over 90 percent of customers buying a System i or Power Systems box to run i5/OS or i operating systems use logical partitions, and the penetration is nearly 100 percent on larger boxes. “People buy one i machine, and they use it for development, test, and production,” Handy says.
Interestingly, on the Power 595 boxes sold in the quarter running AIX, 84 percent of the boxes shipped with PowerVM, and of those, 77 percent of the customers paid money to get PowerVM Enterprise Edition, which is the one with Live Partition Mobility. “I am thrilled with that number,” says Handy. “I was not expecting anything like that yet.” Live Partition Mobility allows an AIX partition to be moved, while running live, from one physical Power Systems box to another one.
Handy says that one of the areas where IBM is looking for growth is in what he calls “two tier in a box,” and that means using a core i or AIX operating system for key applications and then having other partitions, usually Linux, running ancillary workloads. So, for instance, databases and applications might be in one or two i or AIX partitions, but infrastructure and telco applications might be in Linux partitions.
As it turns out, 30 percent of the Power Systems boxes configured in the second quarter also had an AIX or i operating system on them. So even though there are some big Linux supercomputer and parallel cluster deals out there on Power iron, a third are doing this two-tier thing Handy is talking about. (Handy did not say what the penetration of Linux was on i or AIX boxes, and my guess is that this is a small but growing percentage of deals. If the number was large, IBM would have said something.) What he did say is that the bigger the Power Systems machine, the larger the number of Linux partitions machines have and the numbers are growing. A year ago, the 550-class servers had an average of two Linux partitions among machines that had Linux partitions at acquisition, and in Q2 2008, with the Power 550, that number has doubled to an average of four Linux partitions. (Again, this is an average only across those 550 machines with Linux, not across all 550-class boxes that IBM sold.) On the Power 570 machines, the average in Q2 was six Linux partitions and on the Power 595, it was eight Linux partitions.