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11/6/2007
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IBM Pushes Virtualization To Move Ahead With Unix

The company sees its Live Partition Mobility and Live Application Mobility applications as key to any customer using Unix in their network.

IBM on Tuesday said it is adding a live migration element to its virtualization capabilities under AIX, a feature that it claims competitors Sun Microsystems and HP can't match.

In highlighting this specific feature, IBM is bidding to showcase its ongoing investment in Unix. It's seeking to differentiate AIX from competitors in what its says is a $17-$18 billion Unix server market. And it's seeking to take the lead in the red hot space of virtualizing Unix servers in the data center.

Virtualization market leader VMware, which concentrates on Intel and AMD-based x86 servers, finds data center managers most interested in its VMotion tool, which allows the live migration of virtual machines from one physical server to another. IBM is following suit at the Unix level and introducing a similar pair of features: Live Partition Mobility for moving IBM's equivalent of virtual machines and Live Application Mobility for migration of running applications.

"Solaris on Sparc and HP/UX on Itanium don't have it," said Scott Handy, VP of IBM's Power Systems strategy at an event Monday in San Francisco meant to showcase new IBM blade server capabilities based on its Power 6 chips and AIX 6.

Part of IBM's jump into live migration can be attributed to its acquisition of Meiosys in 2005, a start-up which had captured application live migration capabilities in its software. In some cases, IBM now allows start-ups like Meiosys to pioneer and prove technologies that it used to develop in its own labs.

In addition to moving running applications around, IBM can move a logical partition -- its version of an independent virtual machine -- around as well. Such a unit represents a combination of an application and operating system, plus the memory, storage and networking parameters with which it needs to run. Either the application by itself or the entire logical partition may be moved from one physical machine to another without disrupting end users.

The capability puts a new management tool into the hands of data center operations. Instead of taking systems down at 2 a.m. on Sunday, they can be idled for maintenance and upgrade "at 2 p.m. on Tuesday," or any other time during the regular work week, said Handy. As the work day winds down and workloads diminish, applications running on ten servers might be shifted to one to save power and cooling, he added.

The new capabilities are part of IBM's strategy to keep Unix as well as Linux as one of the key operating systems that runs its server line-up. "We are the only Unix platform to grow during the last five years... We'll be the only Unix to grow over the next five years," he added during a presentation Monday in San Francisco.

IBM claims to have taken 12% market share from HP and Sun over the last five years. IDC figures come up short of that total, but Handy suggested that IBM's gain in market share continues in 2007 and end of year figures will support his claim.

The IDC figures for 2001-2006 show IBM's share of revenues for Unix servers shipped from the factory was 21.6% in 2001 and had grown to 32% by the end of 2006, a 10.4% increase. Not all that share has necessarily come from Sun and HP. The figures available didn't disclose which suppliers of Unix servers have suffered declines. They may include Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens and SCO as well as Sun and HP.

IBM's new live migration capabilities come from improvements to both the Power 6 chip, which was introduced earlier this year, and the upgraded AIX 6 operating system, due to be released Friday 10 Nov.

Servers built with the Power 6 chip can be equipped with Advanced Power Virtualization, which turns the physical server into 10 "virtual" servers. IBM says it now ships 67% of servers with the ready-to-go virtualization.

Instead of relying on separate virtual machine software, the IBM approach is to subdivide a host system into ten units, each with its own operating system, application and strictly defined memory space. Such a unit is known as an LPAR or logical partition. The technique was pioneered by IBM early in the life of the mainframe.

In addition, it is offering new virtualization software, Advanced Power Virtualization Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition. To get Live Migration Partition, the user must buy the enterprise edition.

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