Archive for June, 2007

Whither the Hardware Management Console

So, most larger IBM server users have a Hardware Management Console. The word console makes these boxes seem like they just provide a GUI into the inner workings of the IBM Servers, but actually they provide a huge amount of additional function and the systems wouldn’t be usable without them. More correctly they should have probably been called the IBM Server server.

As I’ve alluded to in a couple of prior posts, and on Twitter, I’ve been heavily involved in looking again at the role of Platform Management, that is the configuration, deployment, operation, monitoring of one or more System p homogeneous servers running in Blade or rack mounted systems. Yes, I understand that most organisations have other servers and want to manage them as well, and the work we are doing will definitely allow the System p Platform Management to be extended and driven by external Systems Management tools such as the IBM Systems Director, Tivoli Systems Management, BMC, Computer Associates etc. This will be through both existing and emerging industry standards(see blog).

However, what I’m focussed on short term is the role of the various tools within System p and AIX, but also to support Linux on Power and i5/OS, PAVE Linxu x/86 binaries etc.

As part of that it seems like re-missioning the HMC might be a good idea. On some of our Systems we have a feature called the Integrated Virtualization Manager(IVM) which provides some of the function of the HMC but without the requirement to run an external “console” aka the server server as it runs in a logical partition on the server itself.

I’m interested in any observation and comment on these two things. Would you want to see more function in an re-missioned HMC or does the function belong internally to the system, say running in a logical partition like the IVM? What do you see as the pro’s and con’s of each?

Over the past 6-months I’ve had a lot of feedback on both of these, I’ll incorporate any comments with those and hopefully towards the end of July be able to publish at least an outline or high-level design of where our thinking is.

See you in about 500-miles of cycling and a long spa weekends time!

POWER6, Workload Partitions and Mobility

In the last month, I should have written a number of blog posts on our latest product announcements, instead I’ve been really busy. I have been spending most of my time on a root and branch review of what I’m calling platform management. I was also in Orlando for the IBM IMPACT 2007 conference briefing press and analysts on the announcements, but spent much of my time on a couple of key POWER7 topics.

More on that platform management later, but for the record here is a quick summary of some key part od the announcement, and it’s a doozy(1).

POWER6

IBM POWER6(TM) 570 ServerThis week saw the much speculated ECLIPZ, or POWER6™, more correctly the IBM System p™ 570 server, based on innovative IBM POWER6™ processor technology. The “server” can go from a 2- to 16-core configuration, each core supporting 2-threads.

Interestingly one of the neat features is the ability to switch the processor into low power mode while still running. In most cases this will save up to 50% of the electricity it consumes with little effect or degradation seen by individual applications.

Decimal Floating Point

Much misunderstood, while the focus has been on the power, energy consumption and throughput and stunning benchmark results, one of the more interesting and valuable features is the addition of Decimal Floating Point instructions in the Power Architecure.

This is the first time IBM has put base-10 decimal instructions, and it is the result of probably four or five years concerted vision and effort of IBM Fellow, and fellow Brit’. Mike Cowlishaw. Mike realised that as computer architectures moved to 64-bit and possibly larger, commercial business programs would potentially suffer inconsistent and a best potential rounding errors in decimal arithmetic during the conversion from decimal to binary and back again.

This was especially true in business languages such as COBOL and his own procedures language REXX, and others. Mike was able to marshal through various standards organisations a platform neutral standard implementation and with the launch of Power6 it is now in hardware, and a number of compilers, middleware packages and databases have been updated to use these new instructions. Oh yes, becuase the new instructions are in pure hardware they also run faster and improve performance of applications that use them, but thats a secondary benefit!

Mobility

Live Partition Mobility will migrate a running partition and its’ workload to another partition on another IBM System p server. This suppoirt will include AIX and Linux, and be extended to i5/OS in time. It has some great applications, not just an availability feature for when you need to to do hardware maintenance, or restarts etc. but also potentially a key feature in organisations that are heavily focussed on energy management.

Say you’ve got three Power servers, over the weekend and during holiday periods the workloads on two of them is very lightly used. Instead of shutting the systems down, or building a complex cluster based application where you can shutdown nodes within the system, you simply use Live Partition Migration to migrate all the workloads running on the two lightly used servers onto the 3rd. Once complete, usually within 15-minutes, you can shutdown and power off the two servers you are no longer using.

Prior to the workload useage returning to normal, you just power on both servers and use Live Partition Migration to move the workloads back. No system outages, no file system recoverys.

Workload Partitions

Part of an upcoming formal announcement of AIX 6 will be a feature called Workload Partitions. Yes, you might say this is similar to Sun Solaris Container function, but I wouldn’t!

Workload Partitions are a key part of a development effort to overhall AIX over the next few years and move it much more into a federated, services based model. Workload partitions allow you to quikly and easily start multiple instances of workloads within a single copy of the AIX operating system. Each Workload Partition has memroy and file space seperation from each other and share commonAIX libraries.

One reason why AIX Workload Partitions will become increasingly important is to take up the complexity of running applications in a multi-threaded, multi-core processor. Along with Logical Partitioning and Micro-Partitioning, it will allow users and programmers to relatively seemlessly use the ever increasing power and throughput over these systems without resorting to complex multi-threaded programming, queue and lock management etc.

Application Mobility

Also part of the AIX 6 announcement will be Application Mobility. This provides the mobility between AIX instances on the same and different physical Power based servers of work running in Workload Partitions. In the short-term this will be useful in operational availability and energy management. Longer term it will become a key feature of an automated, fedrated, workload managed server infrastructure for AIX.

So, thats a wrap for now. I had hoped to write more, and more timeloy as well as more detail, but work and immenent vacation meant I was left frantically typing this a couple of hours before leaving for the airport.

(1) A unique or strikingly different one of its kind

neat podcast or should that be Monkcast?

A couple of weeks back, I met with Cote, or more correctly, Michael Cote, Analyst from Redmonk, for lunch. I wanted to try out some acronyms with him, talk WSDM, OSGI, SOI, Platform Management, and generally have lunch.

Turns out that Cote was off a couple of days later to Microsofts Tech Ed conference in Orlando, along with my longtime buddy and Redmonk co-founder James Governor. So it was with some interest when Cote posted a twitter entry about the MonkCast #4: ‘URL-based computing’ closer to reality (and so too is the GPLv3) – I was interested in what Cote had heard about MS management efforts.

I had a conference call late in today and right after giving a presentation on SOA and IBM System p. I found my way to a visitors desk over at the IBM Briefing Center and while waiting for the call, clicked on the link for the “monkcast” and listended to the first few minutes. After the conference call I restarted the podcast and while it was playing, I closed the lid to my IBM Thinkpad and as hoped, it kept playing. I walked down the stairs, out the door and across the street and it kept playing. Once in the car, while it was still playing, I reached into my glove compartment and found the 3.5mm to 3.5mmlead and connected my laptop the the AUX port on the GM’s stereo. I listen to it all the way home.

Then it occured to me, was I online via Wireless all the way home? Unlikely. So I guess it must have been cached on my laptop. Either way pretty neatto. No clicking on links to download, no saving files and replaying.

Despite lots of good comments and observation from Cote and the other Redmonk co-founder, Stephen O’Grady, there wasn’t much on the topics I was interested in. Worth listening though.

Monkcast #4 is here.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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