zBX and the Next IBM Hypervisor

Even before the zEnterprise/zBX was introduced, most mainframe data centers were multi-platform, multi-OS shops. IBM had z/VM and Power VM as hypervisors for System z and Power systems, but in the x86 world VMware ESX ruled, followed by Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

So, it was significant when IBM announced in early May that it and Red Hat, an open source technology leader, are working together to make products built around the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) open source technology for the enterprise. Jean Staten Healy, IBM’s Director of Worldwide Cross-IBM Linux, told IT industry analysts that the two companies together are committed to driving adoption of the open source virtualization technology through joint development projects and enablement of the KVM ecosystem. DancingDinosaur touched on aspects of this several weeks ago, here.

Differentiating the KVM approach from those taken by the current x86 virtualization leaders is open source technology. An open source approach to virtualization, Healy noted, lowers costs, enables greater interoperability, and increases options through multiple sources.

The KVM open source hypervisor allows a business to create multiple virtual versions of Linux and Windows environments on the same server. Companies can take KVM-based products and combine them with comprehensive management capabilities to create highly scalable and reliable, fully cloud-capable systems that enable the consolidation and sharing of massive numbers of virtualized applications and servers.

Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV), for example, was designed for such large scale datacenter virtualization by combining its centralized virtualization management capabilities and advanced features with the KVM hypervisor. BottomlineIT looked at the Red Hat open source approach to virtualization a few weeks ago.

The open source approach to virtualization is starting to gain traction. To that end Red Hat, IBM, BMC, HP, Intel, and others joined to form the Open Virtualization Alliance. Its goal is to facilitate  the adoption of open virtualization technologies, especially KVM. It intends do this by promoting examples of customer successes, encourage interoperability, and accelerate the expansion of the ecosystem of third party solutions around KVM. A growing and robust ecosystem around KVM is essential if the open source hypervisor is to effectively rival VMware and Microsoft.

IBM’s interest in KVM also raises the question of which hypervisor—z/VM, PowerVM, RHEL in the form of RHEV with KVM, or something else—will become the preferred hypervisor for the zBX, especially when organizations start running Power and System x blades and mixed workloads. In an interview with the Register a few months back, Jeff Frey, an IBM Fellow and contributor the zEnterprise/zBX laid out the hypervisor challenge with the zBX:

  • zEnterprise—IBM’s own Processor Resource/System Manage (PR/SM) type 1 hypervisor and its related z/VM operating system (which can function as a type 2 hypervisor) will continue to direct resource activity on the zEnterprise 196.
  • PowerVM—a hypervisor that divides Power systems and blades into logical slices to virtualize I/O as well as to support AIX continues with IBM’s Power platforms.
  • IBM’s System x—Xeon blades will use a version of KVM that works with System z firmware.

The hypervisors on the Power and Xeon blades are treated like other system firmware on the mainframe. Not only do PR/SM, PowerVM, and RHEV get treated like firmware on the z but are linked back to the zEnterprise and the Unified Resource Manager via a built-in Gigabit Ethernet network implemented in a switch in the z.

Result: The switch hooks into the Advanced Management Module in the BladeCenter chassis, while the Unified Resource Manager uses SNMP to manage the BladeCenter and zBX hardware and has hooks into the PowerVM and KVM hypervisors to manage virtual machine partitions on the Power and Xeon blades.

For IBM the KVM technology is particularly well suited to address cloud challenges. It provides a predictable and familiar environment, auditable security compliance, and an open source licensing model that keeps costs down while requiring no additional skills. This makes it particularly cost-effective for large-scale cloud use, public or private, which is where IBM sees all this virtualization taking enterprises.

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