Windows On The (2012 And Cloudy) World
July 16, 2012 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Incumbents in any business, whether it is in the technology sector or not, are usually pretty good at seeing an opportunity off on the horizon and at looking around in their immediate vicinity and identifying and dealing with direct competition. What kills them, in the long run, is their inability to see an indirect threat that can morph into a something quite deadly indeed, and even if they should see the threat, they are unable to stop doing what they are doing, selling their products, and come up with an alternative strategy.
This has certainly been the case in the history of systems, where a legion of different kinds of systems running all kinds of software have been reduced down to a relative handful of chip architectures, operating systems, and database management systems. IBM mainframes vanquished their rivals, only to be supplanted by proprietary minis, which were boxed in by Unix servers, and then X86 servers running Novell, Windows, and Linux. To be sure, mainframes are still around, doing useful work, and so are Unix machines and proprietary minis. But for most of the world, a server means a Windows server and sometimes a Linux server.
And so when Microsoft starts gearing up for a big server operating system launch, as it is doing now, you have to pay attention. Not only, in this case because Windows is the main competition to the Power Systems-IBM i platform, with 640,000 partners and half of the world’s server hardware revenues and probably a somewhat larger share of the related systems software stack. But because the vast majority of OS/400 and IBM i shops runs Windows on their X86 iron and often in conjunction with their IBM i databases and applications, what Microsoft does with Windows has a ripple effect across the data centers and data closets of the world where IBM i works night and day.
At the Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto last week, Microsoft said that it would get its next-gen Windows Server 2012, based on the Windows 8 code base, out the door in August and in the hands of system builders and resellers by September. So this time around, the server is getting out in front of the desktop, tablet, and phone version of the Windows OS.
“It’s a huge milestone for us,” said Satya Nadella, president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools division, in his keynote, adding that over a half million downloads were distributed of Windows Server 2012 with 250 big customers working closely with Big
A lot of the feeds and speeds for Windows Server 2012 are not out yet, but in the keynote, Jeff Woolsey, principal program manager for Windows Server and Cloud at Microsoft, said that the Windows kernel would span up to 320 cores (or logical processors for multithreaded Xeon chips if you turn on HyperThreading), up from 256 cores with Windows Server 2008 R2; main memory expands up to 4TB, double that of the prior Windows release. A virtual machine running on top of Hyper-V can now span 64 virtual CPUs (which can be a core or a thread, depending on the X86 chip) and allocate up to 1TB of virtual memory to a big fat VM and push as many as 1 million I/O operations per second out of a single VM. A Hyper-V sliced system can have as many as 2,048 virtual CPUs across one hypervisor on that physical server, with up to 1,024 of them actually active on that host at any time. With Systems Center 2012 tools, you can lash together up to 64 separate server nodes into a Hyper-V private cloud that can have up to 4,000 VMs running across that cluster and managed under a single pane of glass. Clearly, Hyper-V is scaling better than Systems Center 2012 right now, but still, that is a larger number of VMs than VMware can deploy with its vCenter console and federated ESXi 5.0 hypervisors.
Microsoft is offering about double the metrics as VMware is doing right now, but you have to remember that ESXi 5.1, vSphere 5.1, and an updated vCloud Director will be coming out soon, roughly the same time that Microsoft gets its Windows Server 2012 code out the door.
IBM’s Power Systems machines span from four to 256 cores in a single system image and offer from 8 GB to 8 TB of main memory. The Power7 processors have four threads per core, and AIX and Linux can use all 1,024 threads; as far as I know, IBM i 7.1 is limited to scaling across 32 cores and 128 threads, with special PTFs available to double that to 64 cores and 256 threads. Basically, IBM i acts like it can only span Power6 and Power6+ iron even though it is on Power7 iron. So if you have a big Power 795, you have to run at least four and maybe eight copies of IBM i 7.1 on the machine to load it up. And they are logically distinct instances, not a database cluster.
The Express Edition of the PowerVM 2.2 hypervisor allows an entry server to be carved up into three logical partitions, while the Standard and Enterprise Editions allow it to have as many as 1,000 partitions on a single machine–provided it has the iron to support it. IBM’s virtualization allows for as many as ten virtual machines per core in a box up to the 1,000 partition limit, and you can allocate as little as 1/100th of a core to a partition. IBM has very sophisticated processor, memory, and storage pooling within a single physical Power System for the LPARs running on it, but it is not clear to me how IBM federates across multiple machines. I think that is one of the things that the PureSystem machines announced in April are meant to solve, with up to 16 enclosures and potentially 224 Power7 sockets and 1,792 cores all put under a single management framework with Live Partition Mobility across the nodes and their networks. I am not sure what I/O limits there are on the PowerVM LPARs.
As you can see, Microsoft has come a long way from Windows For Workgroups 3.1 in 1992. (Yes, that was 20 years ago.) And the evolution through Windows For Workgroups 3.11 (1993), Windows NT 3.1 (also 1993), Windows NT 3.5 (1994 and not quite usable), Windows NT 4.0 (a usable server OS), Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008 and now to Windows Server 2012. But here in 2012, it is not just about being an operating system for a single machine or even a cluster of machines, but in making the processor across internal machines and the cloud transparent.
“Let’s take a look at the modern data center,” Nadella said in his keynote address. “We’ve built Windows Azure and Windows Server as one consistent set, as that one distributed operating system that has the following attributes: The first core capability is the ability to scale your resource. We talked about compute, storage, and network; you need to have the capability to take compute, storage, and network and scale it to data center and multi-data-center scale on behalf of a given application or shrink it down. So, that’s why elasticity is very, very core.”
“Massive scale, industry-leading performance, the ability to manage all of my clouds from a single, consistent management interface,” Nadella continued. “With Windows Azure, System Center, and Windows Server 2012, we are delivering the ultimate cloud OS. Let’s go transform the data center together.”
I don’t know how easy it is to move workloads across Windows servers running internally and apps running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, which offers raw infrastructure now as well as database and .NET application runtime services. What I can tell you is that IBM’s SmartCloud can’t just be based on IBM’s Power and X86 iron, but it has to offer the kind of seamless cloud bursting that Microsoft is talking about. Not because companies will actually move applications between data centers and public clouds, but because they will want the option of doing it should they want or have to. And that means IBM needs to not only build its SmartCloud on its best iron–presumably the PureSystems and all their integrated smarts and management tools–but also make sure that IBM i as well as AIX and Linux are on Power nodes and Windows and Linux are on the X86 nodes in the SmartCloud.
While there is a lot of grumbling among resellers who make their livings selling Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2011 bundle, which tosses in SQL Server, SharePoint, and other key apps, now that Microsoft has replaced SBS 2011 with a half-cloud/half-premise Windows Server 2012 Essentials package.
There are only four editions of Windows Server 2012, and one of them, Foundation Edition, is a bare-bones product that is only available to OEM customers who want to embed a Windows server into some product that only has a single processor socket and is limited to 15 users max.
The Essentials Edition is for customers with 25 or fewer users and costs $425 per machine. Standard Edition is for machines with no or little server virtualization and only spans two virtual machines per physical server.
Enterprise Edition is now gone, and the special HPC Server edition with supercomputing extensions is now gone and the math libraries and other clustering extensions are rolled into an HPC Pack for Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition.
That leaves a Standard Edition and a Datacenter Edition. You still have to buy Client Access Licenses for Windows, and Microsoft is switching to a new processor-based licensing model that is going to confuse the hell out of people at first, but it makes some sort of sense. You have to think in units of two-socket increments for Standard and Datacenter Edition. Standard Edition is limited to two sockets and two VMs at a cost of $882, with full Windows functionality. So on a two-socket box, if you want to have four virtual machines running, you have to buy two licenses, which is $1,764. At 5.5 virtual machines, you might as well go with Datacenter Edition, which costs $4,809 for every two-sockets and has unlimited virtualization. You have to pay for CALs on top of this, and it is not clear what the CAL prices will be yet.
The real confusing bit in the licensing terms is the means to upgrade from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012. You need two Windows Server 2008 Datacenter licenses to convert to one Windows Server 2012 Data Center Edition, and Enterprise Edition for Windows Server 2008 converts to two Standard Edition licenses for Windows Server 2012. It takes two Web Server Edition licenses in the 2008 variant to convert to a Standard Edition license in the 2012 variant. Windows Standard Edition converts one-to-one to the 2012 Standard Edition.
I’ll be watching carefully to see how this all stacks up against AIX, Linux, and IBM i, once some performance figures are out and full pricing is available. Fear not.