Mantissa z86VM Virtualization Leverages IBM zEC12 and z/VM

Jim Porell, formerly an IBM Distinguished Engineer with hefty System z credentials, has been pushing the idea of running large numbers of cheap virtualized x86 virtual systems on the zEnterprise for over a year, when DancingDinosaur covered the announcement of his STASH initiative then. Now he is working with Mantissa, known mainly as a provider of mainframe emulation products, on its latest product, z86VM, announced here.

Mantissa z86VM promises to simplify cloud deployment while dramatically reducing virtual image costs by potentially virtualizing thousands of x86 VMs on a zEC12 z/VM partition.  Porell actually isn’t ready to estimate how many until he has done more testing. At this point, all Mantissa is promising is a system that permits you to create virtual x86 machines for use as servers or desktop systems in minutes.

As Porell puts it: existing IBM zEnterprise server customers already have the capacity to run hundreds or thousands of virtual x86 machines. Now he invites DancingDinosaur readers (and anyone else) to try a free version of the z86VM beta software—to become a beta participant, send a request using this form and z86VM Beta as the subject. This will let you try out the latest version and see for yourself. The current beta ships with Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) Linux. SME Server is a CentOS Linux distribution specifically optimized and configured for use as web, file, email, and database servers. It employs a comprehensive browser UI for all management-related tasks.

Specifically Mantissa’s z86VM provides a 32-bit virtual x86 environment which cannot be distinguished by software from real x86 hardware. That means operating systems like Linux for x86 or Windows will run without alteration under IBM z/VM. An important aspect of this virtual operating environment is that no changes are required to move 32-bit x86 operating systems and applications to the z86VM environment. Current test projection modeling shows that up to 50,000 virtual images may be able to operate efficiently on a fully configured zEnterprise server.  But Porell is not quite ready to promise that.

Mantissa hopes to tie z86VM to cloud computing. “Cloud computing, server consolidation, virtual desktops, security, and resilience are all important considerations for customers of the zEnterprise server,” said Gary Dennis, co-Founder, Mantissa, in the beta announcement. “Most x86 virtualization deployments waste 25- 50% of all available hardware capacity.  The z86VM approach can’t do that because there is no real machine,” he add. Actually, there is a real machine underlying the system, currently the zEC12 or, presumably, any other zEnterprise.

Pricing for z86VM when it is released hasn’t been formalized. “My expectation is we will charge per engine, a la zLinux pricing. However, it may be more like z/VM or VMware pricing,” says Porell. The bigger difference is that there should be many more x86 images per core than you’d see with a conventional x86 system. Since the z can run at 100% utilization without fear of failover, Porell expects to squeeze more systems onto each core, which will reduce application and operating system fees where pricing is based on actual cores.

Hybrid computing looms large in Porell and Mantissa’s hopes for z86VM.  For hybrid computing the z86VM can use the same software binary images as other platforms, Porell explains. It should speed the time to deploy those workloads as no new software versions need to be acquired or developed  while providing an ability to further reduce software license costs, environmental costs, operational expense, and complexity, he continues.

In addition, the z/VM hypervisor already is capable of running thousands of virtual system images in a single server. Most of the redundancy necessary for business resilience, fault isolation and disaster recovery is built into the z and the z/VM hypervisor. The z 86VM takes advantage of the z/VM hypervisor to provide the security functionality that isolates one virtual guest from another in such a way that bad behavior by one cannot compromise the execution or data associated with another.

At this point z86VM is looking mostly like a zEnterprise hybrid computing play.  Whether z86VM offers significant benefits beyond what you can do with a hybrid zEnterprise and z/VM will be seen what happens in the beta program, what other business compute needs they address, what they decide with pricing.

Also, hope you will register for Enterprise 2013 in Orlando, Oct 21-25. It will combine the System z and the Power Systems technical universities with an Executive Summit.  The session programs already are out for the System z and Power Systems tracks; registration has already started. Check it out here. DancingDinosaur will be there. In the coming weeks this blog will look more closely intriguing sessions.

BTW–follow DancingDinosaur at its new name on Twitter, @mainframeblog

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