One Less Headache: IBM Preconfigures i 6.1 and VIOS on Blades
October 13, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
While all of us greeted the delivery of the i platform on Power-based blade servers with much enthusiasm, and most of us had wished this had been accomplished many years ago, the way that IBM implemented i on blades has not been as broad or as simple as many of us had hoped.
Among business partners I have spoken with, there has been much complaining about the requirement that the Power6-based JS12 and JS22 blade servers require the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS), an intermediary between the operating system and its peripherals created initially for AIX logical partitioning a few years back, to be used in conjunction with the i platform. By doing this, IBM did not have to create new drivers for existing or future peripherals, and in effect, VIOS functions like a giant virtual driver for disks, controllers, and networking. This simplifies IBM’s coding, to be sure, since i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1 did not have to get explicitly written drivers for all the blade peripherals that can be plugged into the blades. But at least as far as i shops are concerned, the VIOS software is cranky and difficult to set up to work with i 6.1. The situation is so bad, apparently, that IBM is reportedly contemplating an i 6.1.5 interim release to fix the issues. (Although, if IBM doesn’t want to admit problems, it can just roll out a slew of PTF patches.)
Equally importantly, IBM did not support i5/OS V5R4 on the blades, which means many customers are facing an operating system upgrade to i 6.1, which in some cases requires program conversions to update RPG and COBOL programs to a new microcode layer underneath the i 6.1 operating system. (See i5/OS V6R1: The TIMI, It Is A-Changing for more on that.) It would have been better, I think, if i5/OS and i 6.1 were supported natively on the blades as well as through VIOS–as they are with AIX and Linux–than just through VIOS, but IBM had its reasons. My guess is that IBM didn’t want to commit resources without know what kind of return i development for blades might bring. And, of course, by doing what some have called a clunky implementation, that has probably diminished the uptake of JS12 and JS22 blades. A company that bets its business on midrange platforms can’t pay a premium for blades, shift to VIOS, and move to i 6.1 all in one step. Especially when it is so hard to set up.
Which is why IBM is finally offering to preinstall i 6.1 and preconfigure VIOS on JS12 and JS22 blades in the BladeCenter S small and medium business chassis. Considering that the Power 520, the JS12, and the JS22 are the only three configurations, based on my own analysis, that can compete transaction for transaction, and dollar for dollar, with a Wintel box, in the new Power Systems line, making i 6.1 on blades easier to buy for customers and easier to peddle for resellers is a big deal. In fact, it had not occurred to me that i 6.1 and VIOS were not already preinstalled on blades. The operating system comes preconfigured on regular System i and Power Systems i rack and tower servers.
IBM is also now offering to install i 6.1 on disk subsystems integrated into the BladeCenter S chassis, too. The BladeCenter S chassis supporting i blades is now able to use a 450 GB, 15K RPM 3.5-inch SAS drive (feature 3658 on i boxes and formatted down to 428 GB), which allows up to 5.4 TB of raw total disk capacity to be installed with a few JS12 and JS22 blades in the blade chassis. (That’s 12 drives with redundant and cross-coupled RAID 5 SAS disk controllers built into the chassis.) The larger BladeCenter H chassis, which has room for 14 server blades (compared to the six for the BladeCenter S), now supports the DS3400 midrange disk array through Fibre Channel links back into the JS12 and JS22 blades in the H chassis; this gives up to 14.4 TV of capacity using 300 GB SAS drives and up to 48 TB using 1 TB SATA drives. (The DS3400 supports up to 48 drives, which are daisy chained off the controller in the base box using enclosures.)
The pre-installation of i 6.1 and VIOS on BladeCenter S setups and the new disk options are available starting November 21.