Archive for the 'Linux' Category

Growing software influence and Dell

A few things have happened in the last couple of months that show the growing influence and maturity of the software team at Dell, and it’s been on my backlog to write up as a blog post.

DMTF VP of Regional Chapters

Yinghua Qin, the Senior Software Manager in our Zuhai China laboratory has been accepted as the new VP of Regional Chapters at the DMTF. This is an outstanding opportunity for Yinghua, who leads the Foglight and a number of software engineering projects, as well as serves as the local liaison to Sun Yat-sen University(SYSU) school mobile engineering (SMIE). Yinghua reports to the Foglight lead architect Geoff Vona.

Dell actually has at various stages in the past been very proactive with the DMTF. Current board chair, Winston Bumpus, was formally a Dell employee; My ESG colleague Jon Haas has been a major contributor to a number of standards. I for one am looking forward to the increased cooperation that working in international standards can bring.

Open Source Project

The Dell Cloud Manager product development team have open sourced their blockade test tool. Blockade is a utility for testing network failures and partitions in distributed applications. Blockade uses Docker containers to run application processes and manages the network from the host system to create various failure scenarios.

It’s a small step, but congratulations to Tim Freeman and the team for navigating through the process to produce the first new open source development project from the Dell Software Group team.

Angular giveback

A number of our development teams are using Angular.js. Once again after an original approach in November by Sara Cowles from the Dell Cloud Manager team stepped forward and asked the right questions, after checking with other teams, I was happy to sign the Google CLA to fax back to google.

Yocto – Embedded Linux and Beyond

Congratulations also go to Mikey Brown from Dells’ Enterprise Systems Group(ESG). Mikey has picked up the mantle of a project I was a big supporter of, when I was in ESG, Yocto. After doing a great job getting a couple of our embedded Linux offering back on track using Yocto, and the build infrastructure around. Mickey has re-connected with the Yocto team.

Each of these on their own are small steps, but these plus a number of other things going on give me a good feeling things are heading in the right direction. I’ll get to go have another facsinating time hearing from students about how things look from their side of the technology field when I head over to Texas A&M University(Insert “GO AGGIES” here!) to address class 481 on 2/25.

Dell joins Yocto project

Openembedded logoOne of the key activities here, outside of the VIS orchestration, automation engine has been the work around our embedded software stack and where we are heading next. Today we committed to joining the Yocto project, which will be aligned with the OpenEmbedded build system.

The Linux Foundation announced today, via Press Release that Dell+Cavium Networks, Freescale Semiconductor, Intel, LSI, Mentor Graphics, Mindspeed, MontaVista Software, NetLogic Microsystems, RidgeRun, Texas Instruments, Tilera, Timesys, and Wind River, among others would collaborate on a cross-compile environment enabling the development of “a complete Linux Distribution for embedded systems, with the initial target systems being ARM, MIPS, PowerPC and x86 (32 and 64 Bit).

I’m hopeful that this will allow our guys to continue their SDK work, allowing us to move core product technologies between chip architectures, while at the same time contributing back as we innovate around the Linux platform, while building out the the software build recipes and core Linux components, preventing fragmentation.

IBM Big Box quandary

In another follow-up from EMC World, the last session I went to was “EMC System z, z/OS, z/Linux and z/VM”. I thought it might be useful to hear what people were doing in the mainframe space, although largely unrelated to my current job. It was almost 10-years to the day that I was at IBM, were writing the z/Linux strategy, hearing about early successes etc. and strangely, current EMC CTO Jeff Nick and I were engaged in vigourous debate about implementation details of z/Linux the night before we went and told SAP about IBM’s plans.

The EMC World session demonstrated, that as much as things change, the they stay the same. It also reminded me, how borked the IT industry is, that we mostly force customers to choose by pricing rather than function. 10-12 years ago z/Linux on the mainframe was all about giving customers new function, a new way to exploit the technology that they’d already invested in. It was of course also to further establish the mainframes role as a server consolidation platform through virtualization and high levels of utilization.(1)

What I heard were two conflicting and confusing stories, at least they should be for IBM. The first was a customer who was moving all his Oracle workloads from a large IBM Power Systems server to z/Linux on the mainframe. Why? Becuase the licensing on the IBM Power server was too expensive. Using z/Linux, and the Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) allows organizations to do a cost avoidance exercise. Processor capacity on the IFL doesn’t count towards the total installed, general processor capacity and hence doesn’t bump up the overall software licensing costs for all the other users. It’s a complex discussion and that wasn’t the purpose of this post, so I’ll leave it at that.

This might be considered a win for IBM, but actually it was a loss. It’s also a loss for the customer. IBM lost because the processing was being moved from it’s growth platform, IBM Power Systems, to the legacy System z. It’s good for z since it consolidates it’s hold in that organization, or probably does. Once the customer has done the migration and conversion, it will be interesting to see how they feel the performance compares. IBM often refers to IFL and it’s close relatives the ziip and zaap as speciality engines. Giving the impression that they perform faster than the normal System z processors. It’s largely an urban myth though, since these “specialty” engines really only deliver the same performance, they are just measured, monitored and priced differently.

The customer lost becuase they’ve spent time and effort to move from one architecture to another, really only to avoid software and server pricing issues. While the System z folks will argue the benefits of their platform, and I’m not about to “dis” them, actually the IBM Power server can pretty mouch deliver a good enough implementation as to make the difference, largely irrelavant.

The second confliction I heard about was from EMC themselves. The second main topic of the session was a discussion about moving some of the EMC Symmetrix products off the mainframe, as customers have reported that they are using too much mainframe capacity to run. The guys from EMC were thinking of moving the function of the products to commodity x86 processors and then linking those via high speed networking into the mainframe. This would move the function out of band and save mainframe processor cycles, which in turn would avoid an upgrade, which in turn would avoid bumping the software costs up for all users.

I was surprised how quickly I interjected and started talking about WLM SRM Enclaves and moving the EMC apps to run on z/Linux etc. This surely makes much more sense.

I was left with though a definate impression that there are still hard times ahead for IBM in large non-X86 virtualized servers. Not that they are not great pieces of engineering, they are. But getting to grips with software pricing once and for all should really be their prime focus, not a secondary or tertiary one. We were working towards pay per use once before, time to revist me thinks.

(1) Sport the irony of this statement given the preceeding “Nano, Nano” post!

The Windows Legacy

My good friend and fellow Brit’ Nigel Dessau posted his thoughts, and to some degree, frustrations with Windows Vista and potentially Windows 7 today on his personal blog, here.

The problem is of course they are stuck in their own legacy. If I were Microsoft,  I’d declare Windows 8 would only support Windows 7 and earlier apps and drivers in a virtual machine.

They’d declare a bunch of their more low level interfaces deprecated with Windows 7 and won’t be accessible in Windows 8 except in a Windows 7 VM.

Then they’d make their Windows virtual machine technology abstract all physical devices, so that Windows could handle them how they thought best, and wouldn’t let applications talk to devices directly, only via the abstraction. They would have generic storage, generic network, and generic graphics interfaces that applications could write to and Microsoft would deal with everything else.

This would initially limit the number of devices that would be supported, but thats really status quo anyway. They would declare how devices that want to play in the Windows space would behave, declare the specs, and Microsoft would own the testing and to a degree validation of almost all drivers or they could farm this out to a seperate organization who would independently certify the device, not write the code. Once they stabilised the generic interfaces though, the whole Windows system itself would become more stable.

This would be a big step for Microsoft. When you look at the Windows ecosystem, there are hundreds of thousands of Windows applications and utilities. Way too many of them though are to deal with the inadeqaucies of Windows itself, or missing function. Cut out the ability to write these sort of applications and their will be at least an infrastructure developer backlash. It might even provoke more antitrust claims. While I know nothing about the iPhone, this would likely put Windows 8 in the same position with respect to developers.

For all I know, this could be what they have in mind, it’s and area I need to get up to speed on with them, and obviously the processor roadmaps for AMD and Intel, as well as understanding where Linux is headed.

IBM Annouces Plans to acquire Transitive

As is the way with these things, public comment is full of legal trip-wires, none of which I propose to activate. Suffice to say that today IBM announced plans to acquire Transitive, who provide the core technology for PowerVM Lx86.

We’ve also done due dilligence on the patents and copyrights for the Intel SSE Instruction set and will be looking at how we can upgrade the level of Intel support provided in Lx86.

Lx86 on Power update

I had an interesting discussion with an IBM Client IT Architect earlier today; his customer wants to run Windows on his IBM Power Systems Server. It wasn’t a new discussion, I’d had it numerous times over the past 10-years or so, only in the old days the target platform was System z aka the mainframe. Let the record show we even had formal meetings with Microsoft back in the late 90′s about porting their then HAL and WIN32. Lots of reasons why it didn’t work out.

Only these days we think it’s a much more interesting proposition. Given the drive to virtualize x86 servers, to consolidate from a management and energy efficiency perspective, is now is all the rage in with many clients, the story doesn’t have to be sold, you just have to explain how much better at it IBM Power Servers are. Now of course we don’t run Windows, and that’s where this conversation got interesting.

His client wanted to virtualize. They’d got caught up in some of the early gold rush to Linux and had replaced a bunch of Windows print and low access file servers with Linux running on the same hardware, worked well, job done. Roll forward 3-years and now the hardware is creaking at best. The client hadn’t moved any other apps to Linux and was centralizing around larger, virtualized x86 servers to save license costs for Windows.

I’ve no idea what they’ll do next, but my point was, it’s not Windows you need, it’s Linux. And, if you want to centralise around a large virtualized server, it’s not x86 but Power. You can either port the apps to Linux on Power, or if as you say, they don’t want to/can’t port, it’s more than likley they can run the apps with Lx86.

The latest release of PowerVM Lx86 is V1.3, and is available now. We’ve added support for some new instructions and improved the performance in processing other instructions. We provide support for additional Linux operating systems

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 Service Pack 2 for Power
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 update 7 for Power

and have simplified a number of installation related activities, for example embedding the PowerVM Lx86 installation, with the IBM Installation Toolkit for Linux v3.1. Also

  • Archiving previously installed environment for backup or migration to other systems.
  • Automate installation for non-interactive installation and installation from an archive.
  • SELinux is supported by PowerVM Lx86 when running on RHEL

PowerVM Lx86 is supplied with Provided with PowerVM Express, Standard, and Enterprise Editions.

And so back to the question in hand, why not Windows? Technically there is no real reason. Yes, there are some minor architecture differences. But these can be handled via traps and then fixed in software or firmware. The real issue from my perspective is support. If your vendor/ISV won’t support their software running on Windows on the server, or at a minimum requires you to recreate the problem in a supported environment(and we all know how hard that can be), why would you do it?

This has always been the biggest problem when introducing any new emulated/virtualized environment. It’s not at all clear that this is resolved yet even on x86 virtualized environments. Then there are those pesky license agreements you either sign, or agree to by “clicking”. These normally restrict the environments that you run the software on. Legally, we are also restricted in what we can emulate, patents and copyright laws apply across hardware too. Just Do It – might be a slogan that went a long way for Nike Marketing, but that’s not something I’ve heard a lawyer advise.

Virtualization, The Recession and The Mainframe

Robin Bloor has posted an interesting entry on his “Have mac will blog” blog on the above subject. He got a few small things wrong, well mostly, he got all the facts wrong but, right from a populist historical rewrite perspective. Of course I posted a comment, but as always made a few typos that I now cannot correct, so here is the corrected version(feel free to delete the original comments Robin… or just make fun of me for the mistakes, but know I was typing outdoors at the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery, with open toe sandles on and it’s cold tonight in Austin, geeky I know!)

What do they say about a person who is always looking back to their successes? Well, in my case, it’s only becuase I can’t post on my future successes, they are considered too confidential for me to even leave slides with customers when I visit… 

VM revisited, enjoy:

 

Mark Cathcart (Should have) said,
on October 23rd, 2008 at 8:16 pm

Actually Robin, while it’s true that the S/360 operating systems were written in Assembler, and much of the 370 operating systems, PL/S was already in use for some of the large and complex components.

It is also widely known that virtualization, as you know it on the mainframe today, was first introduced on the S/360 model-67. This was a “bastard child” of the S/360 processors that had virtual memory extensions. At that point, the precursor to VM/370 used on the S/360-67 was CP-67.

I think you’ll also find that IBM never demonstrated 40,000 Linux virtual machines on a single VM system, it was David Boyes of Sine Nomine, who also recently ported Open Solaris to VM.

Also, there’s no such thing as pSeries Unix in the marketing nomenclature any more, it’s now Power Systems, whose virtualization now supports AIX aka IBM “Unix”, System i or IBM i to use the the modern vernacular and Linux on Power.

Wikipedia is a pretty decent source for information on mainframe virtualization, right up until VM/XA where there are some things that need correcting, I just have not had the time yet.

Oh yeah, by the way. While 2TB of memory on a mainframe gives pretty impressive virtualization capabilities, my favorite anecdote, and it’s true because I did it, was back in 1983. At Chemical Bank in New York. We virtualized a complete, production, high availability, online credit card authorization system, by adding just 4Mb of memory boosting the total system memory to a whopping 12Mb of memory! Try running any Intel hypervisor or operating system on just 12Mb of memory these days, a great example of how efficient the mainframe virtualization is!

 

Most Mainframe MIPS Installs are Linux

over on the ibmeye blog Greg makes this observation: “I found this surprising (if true): More than half the mainframe MIPS IBM sells are Linux” and “That seems to go against the trust of IBM’s marketing push.”

I have no idea if the numbers quoted are accurate, but I don’t see the inconsistency.

We’ve been on an Intel and general server consolidation drive for 15-years now. Back in the mid-90’s it was much harder, we were trying to convince organizations to move their Unix workloads to OS/390, aka MVS, aka z/OS, using the Unix Systems Services, but it was a tough sell. Even before that a few of us, primarily in Europe were driving to get customers to consolidated under utilized and unreliable file servers to MVS or VM using either LANRES(for Novell Netware) or the LAN File Services for MS and OS/2 LAN Servers.

I think the current trend to migrate to Linux on the mainframe is entirely consistent with organizations efforts to make the most of the environmental benefits of a large centralized server, along with the ease and openness of Linux. IBM has a massive internal effort, moving something like 3,500 servers.

Can you provide examples of where you think it’s inconsistent Greg?

2008 IBM Power Systems Technical University featuring AIX and Linux

Yep, it’s a mouthful. I’ve just been booking some events and presentations for later in the year, and this one, which I had initially hoped to attend clashes with one, so now I can’t.

However, in case the snappy new title passed you buy, it is still the excellent IBM Technical conference it used to be when it was the IBM System p, AIX and Linux Technical University. It runs 4.5 days from 8 – 12 September in Chicago and offers an agenda that includes more than 150 knowledge-packed sessions and hands-on training delivered by top IBM developers and Power Systems experts.

Since the “IBM i” conference is running alongside, you can choose to attend sessions in either event. Sadly I couldn’t find a link for the conference abstracts, but there is more detail online here.

RedMonk IT Management PodCast #10 thoughts

I’ve been working on slides this afternoon for a couple of projects, and wondering why producing slides hasn’t really gotten any easier in 20-years since Freelance under DOS? Why is it I’ve got a 22 flatscreen monitor as an extended desktop, and I’m using a trackpoint and mouse to move things around, and waiting for Windows to move pixel by pixel…

Anyway, I clicked on the LIBSyn link for the RedMonk IT Management Podcast #10 from back in April for some background noise. In the first 20-mins or so, Cote and John get into some interesting discussion about Power Systems, especially in relation to some projects Johns’ working on. As they joke and laugh their way through an easy discussion, they get a bit confused about naming and training.

First, the servers are called IBM Power Systems, or Power. The servers span from blades to high-end scalable monster servers. They all use the Power PC architecture, instruction set RISC chip. Formally there had been two versions of the same servers, System p and System i.

Three operating systems can run natively on Power Systems, AIX, IBM i (formally i5/OS and OS/400) and Linux. You can run these concurrently in any combination using the native virtualization, PowerVM. Amongst the features of PowerVM is the ability to create Logical Partitions. These are a hardware implementation and hardware protected Type-1 Hypervisor. So, it’s like VMware but not at all. You can get more on this in this white paper. For a longer read, see the IBM Systems Software Information Center.

John then discussed the need for training and the complexity of setting up a Power System. Sure, if you want to run a highly flexible, dynamically configurable, highly virtualized server, then you need to do training. Look at the massive market for Microsoft Windows, VMware and Cisco Networking certifications. Is there any question that running complex systems would require similar skills and training?

Of course, John would say that though, as someone who makes a living doing training and consulting, and obviously has a great deal of experience monitoring and managing systems.

However, many of our customers don’t have such a need, they do trust the tools and will configure and run systems without 4-6 months of training. Our autonomic computing may not have achieved everything we envisaged, but it has made a significant difference. You can use the System Config tool at order time, either alone, with your business partner or IBMer, and do the definition for the system, have it installed and provisioned and up and running within half a day.

When I first started in Power Systems, I didn’t take any classes, was not proficient in AIX or anything else Power related. I was able to get a server up and running from scratch and get WebSphere running business applications having read a couple of redbooks. Monitoring and debugging would have taken more time, another book. Clearly becoming an expert always takes longer, see the wikipedia definition of expert.

ps. John, if you drop out of the sky from 25k ft, it doesn’t matter if the flight was a mile or a thousand miles… you’ll hit the ground at the same speed ;-)

pps. Cote I assume your exciting editing session on episode 11, wasn’t so exiciting…

ppps. 15-minutes on travel on Episode #11, time for RedmOnk Travel Podcast

It takes a team – April Power Systems Announcements

I’ve had a few emails asking me if I was going to write a log entry on this month announcements, and to be honest I wasn’t. They are an impressive list of products, branding and customer announcements. I wasn’t anything to do with them, given I’m no longer asked to do marketing/sales types presentations, I picked that time to go do the Machupichhu/Inca trail trip in Peru.

The April announcements though were a credit to the teamwork across the even more global IBM. Core Processor and server development teams in Austin and Rochester, worked with domain specialists in Poughkeepsie and Boeblingen. On top of this were the software development and test teams in India, China and and ever increasing number of places.

The new UNIX enterprise server, the Power™ 595 is an impressive beast if the charts are anything to go by. I’m hoping to get Nancy to take me across the building to the test bring-up to have an up close and personal look sometime this week. The new POWER6 “Hydro-Cluster” supercomputer, the Power 575, is very impessive using a new super-dense system, with a unique, in-rack, water-cooling system and with 448 processor cores per rack. Apprently it offers users nearly five times the performance and more than three times the energy efficiency of its predecessor, IBM’s POWER5+™ processor running upto a industry busting clock cycle of up to 5 GHz.

These Super-dense systems are starting to become a really interesting value prop. On Friday I got a link to the IBM.COM public website that included a video on our iDATAPLEX offering. It was there Saturday and has gone today, but it was there as this search in the current google index shows. The video doesn’t show any technical details but does give an interesting insight into this x86 based super-dense, Internet scale, behemoth of a server. I was hoping there was other public comment or blog entries I could leach off for discussion points, but the only search results return job postings ;-)

Anyone go to the iDATAPLEX session at IMPACT 2008 and want to comment ??

IBM Power p570 Datamation Enterprise Server of the Year 2008

Feb. 12th Datamation announced their product of the year awards, the IBM Power Systems p570 server won enterprise server of the year, up against the IBM System x 3950 M2 Server, the HP MediaSmart Server, and the Dell PowerEdge 2970.

Details on all the award winners are here.

Appliances, Stacks and software virtual machines

A couple of things from the “Monkmaster” this morning peaked my interest and deserved a post rather than a comment. First up was James post on “your Sons IBM“. James discusses a recent theme of his around stackless stacks, and simplicity. Next-up came a tweet link on cohesiveFT and their elastic server on demand.

These are very timely, I’ve been working on a effort here in Power Systems for the past couple of months with my ATSM, Meghna Paruthi, on our appliance strategy. These are, as always with me, one layer lower than the stuff James blogs on, I deal with plumbing. It’s a theme and topic I’ll return to a few times in the coming weeks as I’m just about to wrap up the effort. We are currently looking for some Independent Software Vendors( ISVs) who already package their offerings in VMWare or Microsoft virtual appliance formats and either would like to do something similar for Power Systems, or alternatively have tried it and don’t think it would work for Power Systems.

Simple, easy to use software appliances which can be quickly and easily deployed into PowerVM Logical Partitions have a lot of promise. I’d like to have a market place of stackless, semi-or-total black box systems that can be deployed easily and quickly into a partition and use existing capacity or dynamic capacity upgrade on demand to get the equivalent of cloud computing within a Power System. Given we can already run circa 200-logical partitions on a single machine, and are planing something in the region of 4x that for the p7 based servers with PowerVM, we need to do something about the infrastructure for creating, packaging, servicing, updating and managing them.

We’ve currently got six-sorta-appliance projects in flight, one related to future datacenters, one with WebSphere XD, one with DB2, a couple around security and some ideas on entry level soft appliances.

So far it looks like OVF wrappers around the Network Installation Manager aka NIM, look like the way to go for AIX based appliances, with similar processes for i5/OS and Linux on Power appliances. However, there are a number of related issues about packaging, licensing and inter and intra appliance communication that I’m looking for some input on. So, if you are an ISV, or a startup, or even in independent contractor who is looking at how to package software for Power Systems, please feel free to post here, or email, I’d love to engage.

IBM Software and Power Systems Roadshow

In September and October 2007, the IBM Software Group Competitive Project office put on a short series of roadshows in North America and India to show some of the best aspects of IBM Middleware running on Power Systems. It’s not an out and out marketing event, but one designed and presented by some solid technical folks.

They’ve announced the first set of dates for 2008, and the events start next week. Strangely the workshop is listed on the Software/Linux web page but definitely covers AIX and Linux implementations. Here are the dates and locations, hope some of you new to Power or interested in IBM Middleware exploitation on Power can make it along.

Tampa, FL February 21, 2008
Charlotte, NC February 26, 2008
Philadelphia, PA February 28, 2008
Mohegan Sun, CT March 6, 2008
Hazelwood, MO March 11, 2008
Minneapolis, MN March 13, 2008

Finally on the same page

Linux another operating system slideThanks to James Governor at Redmonk or @monkchips on twitter, for the pointer. In this pretty direct interview, Linus Torvalds says something I got into trouble for about 7-years ago. Linus says “An OS should never have been something that people really care about… it should be completely invisible”.

I gave the keynote presentation at the OS/390 Expo and Performance Conference, I think in either 2000 or 2001, during the presentation I made exactly the same point, only about Linux. Yes, Linux was great, yes, we were going to do some pretty innovative things with it, but if in 5-years time we are still worrying about scalability, driver compatibility etc. then we’d missed the point, we shouldn’t really have to care about the OS.

Unfortunately in the audience was the IBM Account Executive for a large multi-national company, and the CTO from that company. Rather than come and ask questions afterwards, they took one point from a 75-minute presentation and complained about me to my then VP, Carol Stafford. Carol “invited” me into her office, I had to explain the remark, and context, Carol understood and took care of things.

So it’s with a wry smile I read the Torvalds article, and then sat up and wondered, do we still care about the OS, or has the stack become more important?


About & Contact

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

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