Cloud Walkers Makes LPARs More Native On IBM i
December 16, 2019 Timothy Prickett Morgan
There are a few different technologies that have been grafted onto the OS/400 and IBM i platform from the outside that are just architected differently from and run somewhat counter to the integrated nature of that platform, and all of them are involved, in one way or another, with managing logical partitions on the Power Systems platform and all of them make IBM i shops cranky.
They are, in no certain order: the PowerVM hypervisor, the Hardware Management Console (HMC), the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS), the PowerVC variant of OpenStack that is native to Power Systems, and external disk arrays, usually of the Storwize V5000 or V7000 SAN variety but sometimes the DS8000 SAN series. In one way or another, once customers get to a certain size and complexity when it comes to logical partitions on their IBM i machines, they have to wrestle with these things on anywhere from an occasional to a daily basis. And it is a lot.
So Bartlomiej Grabowski, the founder and chief executive officer of Cloud Walkers, a software startup based in Prague in the Czech Republic, is doing something about it with his LPARKit set of tools for the IBM i platform.
It all started out so simply, and now LPARKit is evolving into a full-blown system management tool. Grabowski has worked at a major European IBM i shop for the past dozen years (he doesn’t want to make a big deal about the company here, but you can find it easily enough) and manages machines with hundreds of logical partitions and tens of thousands of users. Grabowski participates in the Large User Group (LUG) and is also an IBM Power Champion as well as a Redbook author, and worked at IBM before joining that big European IBM i shop. The tools that Grabowski has been developing were done with his own resources and without any involvement of resources from his employer. Suffice it to say, Grabowski has the technical chops.
At first, all that Grabowski wanted to do was to was to create logical partitions using the HMC and VIOS, but to do so through the normal IBM i operating system interface rather than from the alien interfaces of the HMC and VIOS.
It is not a coincidence that the HMC and VIOS have their origins in IBM’s AIX operating system just like PowerVM does. Well, to be super precise, the first server virtualization hypervisor on Power iron was based on the OS/400 V4R4 kernel, and then it got tweaked to run on a stripped down AIX kernel somewhere along the way with the Advanced Power Virtualization and then the PowerVM editions of the hypervisor, which has a more Unix-alike feel to it. VIOS is a cut-down version of AIX that runs inside a PowerVM LPAR and that creates virtual SCSI adapters over internal backplane interconnects and that work in parallel with the virtual LAN technologies built into the PowerVM hypervisor to create virtual Ethernet connections over the same backplane. The first HMC was available way back on Power4 machines, and Grabowski says that the recent releases of the HMC software from IBM have similar command line capabilities, but he adds that he was working on the mappings from the IBM i command line to the HMC and VIOS tools two years ago but didn’t make them public. The good news is that the basic version of LPARKit, which provides this command line LPAR configuration management and automated mapping to the HMC and the VIOS layers for free.
There are two versions of the LPARKit. The Light version is the freebie, which allows for the creation of LPARs using vSCSI or NPIV (virtual Fibre Channel) storage drivers. The Gold version, which is not free, allows for the deleting of LPARs as well as the managing of virtual adapters (which can be taken offline as physical hardware is repaired or replaced), and interestingly, can also be used to clone instances of the IBM i operating system on the PowerVM hypervisor using normal TCP/IP connectivity and without the need of FlashCopy or Snapshot capabilities built into IBM SAN arrays. This last bit is important because, despite it all, many IBM i shops prefer internal storage arrays and would love to simply have everything speak native IBM i and be under the skins of the Power Systems server rather than across a diverse and not as integrated set of hardware.
“The only thing that offers similar functionality to this operating system cloning capability is IBM’s PowerVC variant of the OpenStack cloud controller,” explains Grabowski. “But PowerVC is basically an appliance that connects to the HMC and storage and SAN switches. Big companies sometimes have to create a few partitions a day, and if you don’t have PowerVC, which is a challenge to get set up and which costs money, then you have to use the FlashCopy functionality on the storage array to create a copy of the template of the operating system to put onto each new LPAR. You are basically cloning the disk that contains the operating system. LPARKit basically creates a virtual disk, which is located on VIOS and which the user puts everything into the gold template partition that can be maintained every day, and clones it to the new partition. The advantage compared to the PowerVC approach is that you don’t need the external storage, the cloning is on the virtual disk.”
At the moment, moving that VIOS image of the IBM i template out to external storage, if customers decide to use external SAN arrays, is a manual process, but Grabowski says that he is working on a way to automate this step in a future release of LPARKit. This could take one or two months, so expect it early in the new year.
By the way, it can take three hours to install an IBM i operating system instance on a partition, and patching it to get it current on the PTF patches can take a few hours, and across a half dozen partitions, which is not unusual in a large IBM i shop, can take two days. So this method of setting up LPARs and cloning IBM i instances doesn’t just save money, it saves time. Which is also money.
In addition to these features, the Gold edition of LPARKit includes reporting functions on VLAN networking and vSCSI, and NPIV virtual storage mapping to help administrators manage all of the virtual partitions in a system.
Pricing is being finalized on the Gold edition of LPARKit, but Grabowski says that the plan is to charge a single fee per physical system and that this will scale according to the IBM i software tier of the system. The P05 tier will cost around $2,000 for a license and the P30 tier will cost around $10,000, with the P10 and P20 tiers somewhere in between. If the scaling is more or less linear, then a P10 tier will cost $5,000 and a P20 tier will cost $7,500. An annual maintenance contract will be added to this perpetual license fee; pricing has not been set, but somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent of the licensing cost is standard in the software racket. We would not be surprised to see an annual subscription offered in addition to the perpetual licensing scheme, which would lower the initial cost to users but preserve the revenue stream over time for Cloud Walkers.
You can download LPARKit Light, the freebie version of the tool, at this link. You can also ask for a trial version of LPARKit Gold edition at that same link.