Power Systems i Weather Report: Partly Cloudy Soon
June 22, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Power Systems i platform is going into the clouds. As part of its CloudBurst cloud infrastructure launch last week, IBM said that it will eventually build cloud setups, both for sale by IBM to run inside corporate data centers as well as those it runs with rented capacity, based on its X64, Power, and mainframe iron. As you might expect, given the buying proclivities of the relatively few cloud customers today, IBM’s CloudBurst products are starting out on X64 iron.
Everybody in the server racket wants to make a big deal about cloud computing these days, but the cloud is just the natural evolution you’d expect when the tradition of running distributed systems inside of data centers collides with the idea of utility computing–you pay for what you want when you want it and not a penny more–and the ubiquity of the Internet. Think of it like three garbage trucks crashing into each other at a fork in the road, and you will see the inevitability of cloud computing. (I don’t really like the term cloud computing at all, and my kids will simply call it computing, as if there was never a time when the Internet didn’t exist and we didn’t always do things this way.)
The CloudBurst Systems announced last week are basically preconfigured X64 BladeCenter blade servers with a management node based on a System x box plus a slew of existing system management and provisioning tools all woven together to support VMware‘s prior generation of ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor and virtual machine management tools. This is basically a preconfigured ESX Server VM cloud; to be precise, it is more a way of selling capacity on a per-rack basis, all set up and ready to go, that supercomputer customers have demanded from their suppliers for years now. Companies want one deal, one invoice, one set of financing, and one throat to choke, even of a cluster or cloud is made up of hundreds of piece parts.
The CloudBurst setup Big Blue announced last week starts out with a standard 42U server rack that has a single 14-blade BladeCenter H chassis in it and a System x 3650 M2 server; the BladeCenter comes with four HS22 blade servers. All of the machines are based on Intel’s new four-core “Nehalem EP” Xeon 5500 processors and each blade server is set up with 48 GB of main memory. The x3650 server, which has 24 GB of memory, is used to run CloudBurst cloud management software, which interfaces with one of the blades in the box that is set up as a management node as well. That’s a lot of iron for management, but the x3650’s CloudBurst responsibilities span a rack, which can have five BladeCenter chasses in the rack in addition to the x3650 and a DS3400 Fibre Channel disk array that is added to the CloudBurst configuration. The HS22 blades have two Nehalem EP processors each (that’s their full complement), and fully loaded, the CloudBurst rack can have 65 production blades for a total of 520 processor cores dedicated to supporting ESX Server and virtualized X64 workloads.
The CloudBurst V1.1 software stack includes something called the CloudBurst service management pack, plus IBM’s Tivoli Provisioning Manager V7.1 and Tivoli Monitoring V6.2.1 tools as well as the System Director 6.1.1 systems management tool (including active energy manager features to shut down unused processors and servers to save energy) and various storage management tools (ToolsCenter 1.0, DS Storage Manager for DS4000 V10.36, and an SMI-S provider for the DS3400 from LSI Logic). IBM is currently supporting VMware’s ESXi 3.5 Update 4 hypervisor on the blades as well as its VirtualCenter 2.5 VM management tool, but in April VMware launched its much-improved ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and vSphere 4.0 tool stack, which just started shipping on May 21, and this is the one that customers will be itching for once their operating system and application software stacks are certified for it. IBM will probably support Citrix Systems‘ XenServer 5.5, which started shipping last week after being announced in February, and comes with management tools called Citrix Essentials that integrate with XenServer or Microsoft‘s Hyper-V hypervisors and that are being marketed by both Citrix and Microsoft. IBM could support Red Hat‘s KVM-based Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor on this CloudBurst iron at some point, but RHEV just went into beta last week and is not expected to be in production until later this year.
The starting price for this CloudBurst configuration is $207,387, and it comes with a single price tag and invoice. IBM Global Financing reckons customers can get it for $5,750 per month on a 36-month lease if they have good credit. This iron started shipping on June 19.
IBM was not specific about its plans for putting Power Systems and mainframe iron into CloudBurst configurations, but sources at Big Blue assured me that this was indeed the plan, and that means IBM will probably be putting a mix of Power6+ rack and blade servers into BladeCenters and maybe its ultradense Power 560 and Power 570 machines for large databases; it seems unlikely that IBM will port the CloudBurst management software to the Power architecture, but it might. It is safe to assume that bigger Power-based CloudBurst iron will get bigger SAN disks behind it, and that the PowerVM hypervisor and the Virtual I/O Server will play big roles in the Power-based CloudBurst setups. And IBM has to support its own i 6.1 and AIX 6.1 operating system as well as Red Hat and Novell Linuxes on the power iron, too.
How a mainframe fits in a cloud is a bit of a mystery to me. A mainframe is kind of like its own self-contained cloud, but it is possible that IBM will simply install some mainframes with CloudBurst hooks that will allow customers with mainframes to offload some of their peak work to IBM’s own mainframes in a cloudy fashion.
A lot of things are being given the Smart Business brand these days, and IBM also last week previewed some services it was planning to offer to customers over the IBM Cloud, IBM’s cloud computing service. IBM plans to offer a stack of Rational application development and testing software running on the IBM Cloud as an alternative for customers who might otherwise license the Rational tools and try to host them. Considering that it takes days to set up a server to prepare it to run a test cycle, using IBM’s cloud, which can jukebox configurations, customers can (by IBM’s estimation) eliminate 30 percent to 50 percent of their server iron, which is dedicated to dev and test and which is usually 90 percent idle. That’s a lot of clock cycles spinning for nothing, and a lot of money. IBM is able to ship a version of this dev and test Smart Business cloud and put it into your shop today, by the way. The hosted version on the IBM Cloud is what is in preview.
IBM also wants to get a piece of the PC virtualization racket, and announced the Smart Business Virtual Desktop cloud, which parks some CloudBurst iron on your site and sets it up to serve up virtualized Windows XP and Windows Vista clients to your end users from that centralized iron. IBM is previewing its own IBM Cloud hosted version of this virtual PC offering. IBM is using a mix of technologies to manage and stream the virtual PCs, include products from VMware, Citrix, Desktone, Quest Software, and Wyse. IBM is obviously keen on pushing its Web-based Lotus Symphony office suite as part of the virtual PC effort.
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