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IBM’s Virtualisation Engine

July 7th, 2004 · No Comments

John Patrick had a post in May:

The datacenter is the heart and soul of a modern day e-business. The datacenter is home for servers — computers which “serve” the web pages and processes that customers, business partners, vendors, employees, stockholders, and others are requesting. Ten years ago companies had a web server. Today corporate enterprises have thousands of servers — some have tens of thousands of servers. As new applications are added to the business, new servers get added to the datacenter. As demand grows, new servers get added to the datacenter. As companies grow geographically or through acquisitions, more servers get added to the datacenter. To protect against disasters, multiple datacenters are created.

If the only challenge was managing large numbers of servers, things would be easier. That is not the case. Servers have magnetic disk drives for storage of programs, transactions and databases. The storage devices hold trillions of characters of information scattered among the servers. The servers must be connected to the Internet and for this purpose, datacenters have networking hubs, network switches, and routers. These networking systems are actually special purpose computers (as servers are) which connect the servers to each other and to the Internet. Many datacenters use their internal networks to implement network attached storage and storage area networks. Storage of data is increasingly done using storage servers which in turn have their own storage and software. And then there is backup using backup servers — with sophisticated tape drives that can store hundreds of billions of characters of information on a cartridge and computer controlled robots that keep track of which cartridge is which and when to do the backups. And then there are print servers to route the output of servers to various printers within the enterprise. This was an abbreviated version of how complicated things in real datacenters are.

Now imagine a virtual datacenter. When you peer through the window you see three boxes — one says server, another says storage, and the third says network. There is a person at a large video console who is looking at what appears to be a dashboard. It shows a pictorial diagram of all the applications that are running in the datacenter — payroll, purchase orders, invoicing, web purchases, inventory management, training video streaming to new employees, etc. When one application area needs more server, storage, or network capacity the virtual datacenter automatically re-allocates capacity from another application area that currently has excess capacity. The virtual datacenter keeps resources balanced, and when a component fails, the virtual datacenter automatically allocates a spare or underutilized component to take over.

Sound like magic? Not really — it is a lot of software being created by teams among IBM’s thousands of programmers working in the company’s systems and technology and software groups. Collectively, the new software is called the virtualization engine. It is tightly integrated and optimized with IBM servers but also can include products from other vendors. It makes the real datacenter and all of its many thousands of components appear virtual — and simple. By turning the real into the virtual and providing tools to manage the resulting virtual datacenter, the virtualization engine will allow management to get their arms around what has been a very challenging task. The result will be that e-businesses who use virtual datacenters will be able to be e-businesses on demand in the real world.

Tags: Software

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