IBM is looking to bolster the virtualization capabilities of both its Power6 processor and its System p servers with an eye toward selling more systems to small businesses, while taking away customers from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.
The Armonk, N.Y., company announced Jan. 29 a set of virtualization software applications called PowerVM, which works with the company’s System p servers and its Power processor architecture. The virtualization software replaces IBM’s Advanced Power Virtualization technology and adds some new features for small businesses and midmarket companies.
Big Blue also announced two new entry-level System p servers-the p520 and the p550-and the BladeCenter JS21 server, which support the Power6 processor, a dual-core chip with a top clock speed of 4.7GHz, first introduced in 2007. ( IBM has shipped about 4,100 Power6-based System p and System i servers since mid-2007.)
Since November, IBM has been talking up both its AIX Unix operating system and its System p portfolio as viable alternatives for smaller companies.
At the same time, IBM is looking to move customers away from Sun, with its SPARC-based systems, and HP, with its line of servers powered by Intel’s Itanium chips. To get customers to move away from its rivals in the Unix market, IBM is adding a new set of features to PowerVM, including Lx86, which allows Linux binaries to run on Power-based systems.
In addition, IBM is hoping that PowerVM, along with Live Partition Mobility, which uses Power6 and capabilities built into the firmware to allow users to move an operating system and application live from one Unix system to another without interruption, will also appeal to customers looking to consolidate x86 servers onto a single System p system.
IBM has divided PowerVM into three categories, including an Express edition that allows a physical server to hold three different virtual images. The other two versions -Standard and Enterprise-support up to 10 virtual environments per processing core.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, in Nashua, N.H., said that while Jan. 29’s announcement lacked specific new technology from IBM, it does show that the company is trying to consolidate its various virtualization offerings into a single offering that makes it easier for smaller businesses to consider.
“Basically, they are talking about some new entry-level servers and virtualization that is targeting a small and midsized business [SMB] audience,” Haff said. “A lot of it is rebranding, and what PowerVM allows IBM to do is pull all virtualization offerings under one umbrella term. IBM has a lot of different pieces of virtualization, and it’s a complex portfolio.”
At the beginning of the year, IBM announced that it planned to reorganize itself to better address its SMB customers. Some analysts believe that the SMB market is worth $500 billion in products and services, and IBM’s new focus is to let smaller customers know that the company has their needs in mind.
System p, for example, has been considered an enterprise-class system, but IBM has begun to reorganize its business to show that a System p server can easily work in a smaller company as well as in a larger enterprise.
Scott Handy, vice president for worldwide marketing and strategy for IBM’s Power systems, said while part of Jan. 29’s announcement was rebranding, it also showed where IBM is heading with its virtualization strategy for smaller customers.
“It’s new that we have split this into a whole family now,” Handy said, referring to PowerVM.
“Also new is the Lx86, and that allows all three editions [of PowerVM to] run Linux x86 binaries, which based on our beta we are going to have pretty good customer acceptance,” Handy added. “Over time, this will become even more significant as we roll out new virtualization technologies; we will stop rolling out individual things you can order and just put them into one of these three releases. So this greatly simplifies how customers acquire virtualization technology from us.”
On the hardware side, IBM is offering two entry-level System p servers. The p520 supports up to four Power processing cores and offers up to 64GB of memory. The p550 can support up to eight Power processing cores and offers 256GB of memory, which Handy said helps support a number of virtual environments.
The virtualization software and new hardware will be available in February. The Power6-based blade will be available in March, according to IBM.