VMControl: Big Blue Wants to Control All Your VMs and LPARs
August 3, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Server virtualization might solve a whole bunch of issues, but it creates a whole bunch of others. Seeing that its systems customers are struggling with multiple and incompatible server virtualization hypervisors and management tools for making use of them, even on IBM‘s own Power Systems, System z, and System x product lines, Big Blue has decided that it has the answer to making all of these virtual machines and logical partitions behave themselves, which, not coincidentally, is giving it some leverage in the server market and some cash for its coffers, too.
Just before The Four Hundred went on vacation hiatus, IBM not only lifted the veil a little bit on the future Power7 processors, but it also announced a new add-on product for its Systems Director systems management tool for its various server lines called VMControl. Simply put, VMControl seeks to do what no other tool has yet done and what I have been saying needs to be done for years: Allow one tool from one pane of glass manage all of the different VMs and LPARs that are running out in the data center, and do so in a consistent manner regardless of the underlying technology.
At the moment, IBM is only pitching VMControl on its own iron, and only for specific operating systems, but you can bet that the company will roll out similar plug-ins to its Tivoli systems management tools at some point so it can manage VMs, LDoms, and other kinds of partitions and all the key operating systems running on other data center iron. The reason I say this is because IBM is sharing code between the Systems Director and Tivoli products (presumably in both directions).
As it turns out, Scott Handy, who you know as the vice president of marketing and strategy for the Power Systems division, is also responsible for the Systems Director tools, which got their start on IBM’s System X86 and X64 products, spread to BladeCenter blade servers, and now are available to monitor and manage IBM’s complete server lineup. Handy says that IBM plans to put three editions of the VMControl V2.1 tool into the field, and as is the case with the PowerVM hypervisor, there is a freebie Express Edition, and then the Standard Edition and Enterprise Editions that add more functionality and therefore have licensing fees.
VMControl Express Edition is used to create, modify, and delete VMs and LPARs and control how they move around networks of machines using live migration and live partition mobility features inherent in hypervisors these days. VMControl Express Edition was available for download from IBM starting on July 24, but it only supports Microsoft‘s Hyper-V and VMware‘s ESX Server hypervisors on X64 servers at the moment. But Handy says that over time, IBM will support the Xen hypervisor (pushed mostly by Citrix Systems and Oracle with some interest from Novell) and the KVM hypervisor (championed by Red Hat as an alternative to Xen on X64 iron); it will also support logical partitions on Power Systems servers running atop PowerVM and supporting i, AIX, and Linux. Exactly when is not clear. But there is a clear need for the software.
Handy says that about 60 percent of IBM’s server shops have mainframes, AIX boxes, and X64 servers (presumably running mostly Windows with a smattering of Linux) all in the same data centers. All of the mainframe shops have virtualization, and on Power Systems machines, the average is rapidly approaching 60 percent PowerVM penetration on new systems sales. It won’t be long before hypervisors are installed on 30 to 40 percent of the System x iron that IBM sells, either. So customers want IBM to give them one tool to manage all of this, not three or four different tools.
VMControl Standard Edition, which controls VM and LPAR images and how they are managed through their lifecycle, is starting at the top with mainframes and Power iron and working its way down to X64 iron. Specifically, it will manage the Linux images running on Integrated Facility for Linux specialty engines on System z boxes, which are partitioned using z/VM. PowerVM LPARs are also supported in the initial V2.1 release of VMControl Standard Edition, and in the fourth quarter IBM will put out a point release that adds support for managing images for hypervisors running on its System x and BladeCenter machines using X64 processors. My guess is that Hyper-V and ESX Server are at the front of the line again, with Xen coming next and then KVM after Red Hat gets its commercialized Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) into the field at the end of this year.
VMControl Standard Edition will be priced at a system level, not based on processor sockets, cores, or threads, or the number of virtual machines under management. And the price will be the same no matter what kind of machine is involved. There are different price bands based on software tiers, as has been traditional on AS/400 and RS/6000 iron and as still happens on the converged Power Systems platform. The Standard Edition of the VMControl plug-in will cost $100 on a small server, $600 on a medium server, and $1,300 on a large server, according to Handy. This seems like a very reasonably price to pay for a VM and LPAR image management system. You can get a 60-day free trial now.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, IBM will launch VMControl Enterprise Edition, which will be able to pool groups of compatible VMs and LPARs across distinct physical servers into pools and then use policies set by system administrators to control how those VMs and LPARs are activated, moved around, and deactivated on those machine pools. IBM also intends to create policies for specific software stacks for Enterprise Edition–say, for SAP or Oracle n-tier ERP applications deployed atop VMs and LPARs–so all of the best practices from the application vendors are put into the policies controlling the pools the apps run on.
No word on what VMControl Enterprise Edition will cost, but you can bet it will be more than Standard Edition, and that the price will include the features in Standard Edition. Just like with the various PowerVM hypervisors, you don’t have to buy each edition to move up in functionality.