Big Blue Announces Power5, Virtualization Engine; Rechristens iSeries

IBM’s next-generation chip to debut in iSeries, the new name for the company's i5 line

Capping months of speculation, IBM Corp. this week unveiled its Power5 microprocessor, which makes its formal debut on i5, the company's new name for its iSeries systems.

Big Blue also touted a new technology, dubbed “Virtualization Engine,” which it plans to introduce in tandem with Power5, and which is shipping with the new iSeries i5. Officials say that Virtualization Engine is based on technology that IBM originally developed for zSeries. The technology allows customers to more efficiently partition their Power5-based systems, such that they can create sub-processor logical partitions (LPAR).

For the record, IBM announced two new iSeries i5 systems, the i5 Model 520 (a one-to-two way system) and the i5 Model 570 (a two-to-four way box). Both are slated for general availability June 11. Like their Power4-based predecessors, the new systems can host a variety of operating environments—i5/OS (OS/400), Linux, Windows—as well as AIX5L.

In fact, says i5 product marketing manager Ian Jarman, i5 servers can support Linux, Windows, and even Unix consolidation efforts: “The significance of the announcement we’re making is this is the first time we’ll support AIX5L on our platform alongside i5/OS, alongside Linux, alongside Windows. So on a single platform we can run four operating systems together using Virtualization Engines technology for each.”

Jarman says IBM is also bringing its i5 pricing in line with its pSeries Unix line, which analysts say is very competitive against rival Unix servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. “We’re bringing our pricing on components like memory and disc into line with our Unix servers, and that is a fundamental shift,” he says. “We will have commodity pricing for things like memory and disc, and, in the case of memory, that’s a reduction in price of 80 percent compared to our previous model.”

Jarman claims that the new i5 systems deliver up to a 40 percent system price/performance improvement over IBM’s existing iSeries models. But Jarman says that Big Blue has also adjusted the prices of these models. “Because those pricing changes are so fundamental, we have also re-priced our existing models, so we’ve re-priced everything,” he confirms.

One reason IBM is unveiling Power5 on i5 before pSeries is because the latter platform was refreshed with its Power4+ chips last year. Many of the company’s iSeries systems, on the other hand, are driven by Power4 CMOS that is at least two generations old, Jarman notes. “If you look at our products, we’ve often staged roll-outs of different technologies at different times, so … it’s one of those situations where we are refreshing the iSeries product at a different time, but it’s to make the iSeries more competitive for our smaller customer segments.”

In addition to the customary goodies to which AS/400 and iSeries customers have long been accustomed—such as the system hardware, operating system, and database—the new i5 systems ship with an integrated version of IBM’s WebSphere Express application server and transaction engine, Jarman confirms.

Elsewhere, he says, IBM is extending the i5 On/Off Capacity on Demand capabilities with two new features, Memory on Demand and Reserve Capacity on Demand; the latter lets customers configure their systems to automatically unlock additional processing power to meet changing business conditions. “[This] is a way of automating that process. Here, you would buy a pool of processor days up front … where you can automatically switch those additional processors on. So if the system utilization goes to 100 percent, then it will automatically deploy the reserve capacity without any operator intervention, without anything at all,” he explains. “It allows you to immediately access that capability and work through a spike in performance.”

Virtualize Resources

Currently, customers can deploy as many as one LPAR per-processor on IBM’s Power4-based iSeries and pSeries systems, which is a far cry from the highly granular sub-processor partitioning capabilities of its zSeries mainframes. Thanks to Big Blue’s new Virtualization Engine, that story gets a bit better, says Tim Dougherty, director of eServer products for IBM’s systems and technology group. Customers can create as many as 10 LPARs per processor, which—in the case of the four-way i5 model 570—works out to 40 LPARs.

“We’re taking that same base of [zSeries] code and moving it to pSeries and iSeries systems as well, so now I’ll get up to 10 micro-partitions on a single processor,” he explains.

And this is just for starters, notes Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with consultancy Illuminata, who speculates that IBM could eventually support hundreds of LPARs on a single Power5 processor. “For the next five years or so, z[Series’ partitioning capabilities] will be in the lead, given its multi-decade head start. But p[Series] and i[Series] will be much closer to z[Series] levels of partitionability, for example, as soon as their respective POWER5 systems ship."

But that’s not all. Big Blue plans to virtualize LPAR connections to network and storage, as well, says Dougherty. In addition, IBM is prepping a multiplatform version of Director, software it introduced for its blade systems to facilitate efficient provisioning and management of blades. “We’ve extended that [Director Multiplatform] to handle all of the IBM systems. It’s a workgroup manager that runs on top of … all of the other servers. That’s where the workload management and provisioning functions will actually run,” he explains.

IBM is also delivering grid capabilities in the form of a WebSphere-based grid toolkit that conforms to the Open Grid Services Architecture, Dougherty confirms.

For now, says Illuminata’s Eunice, Virtualization Engine will probably only appeal to Big Blue’s biggest customers. Over time, however, he expects that to change. “The larger and more complex a customer, the larger and more complex their infrastructure is likely to be, and so the more likely they are to get immediate value from this kind of simplification and unification approach,” he concludes, noting that “SMB [customers] will benefit from parts like partitioning, SVC, and Director Multiplatform, but larger enterprises and service providers will see the most immediate rewards.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.