Archive for the 'pave' Category

Whither IBM, Sun and Sparc?

So the twitterati and blog space is alight with discussion that IBM is to buy Sun for $6.25 billion. The only way we’ll know if there is any truth to it is if it goes ahead, these rumors are never denied.

Everyone is of course focussed on the big questions which mostly are around hardware synergies(server, chips, storage) and Java. Since I don’t work at IBM I have no idea whats going on or if there is any truth to this. There some more interesting technical discussions to be had than those generally think they have an informed opinion.

IBM bought Transitive in 2008; Transitive has some innovative emulation software, called QuickTransit. It allows binaries created and compiled on one platform, to be run on another hardware platform without change or recompilation. There were some deficiencies, and you can read more into this in my terse summary blog post at the time of the acquisition announcement. Prior to acquisition QuickTransit supported a number of platforms including SPARC and PowerMac and had been licensed by a number of companies, including IBM.

I assume IBM is in the midst of their classic “blue rinse” process and this explains the almost complete elimination of the Transitive web site(1), and it’s nothing more sinister than they are getting ready to re-launch under the IBM branding umbrella of POwerVM or some such.

Now, one could speculate that by acquiring SUN, IBM would achieve three things that would enhance their PowerVM stratgey and build on their Transitive acquisition. First, they could reduce the platforms supported by QuickTransit and over time, not renegotiate their licensing agreements with 3rd parties. This would give IBM “leverage” in offering binary emulation for the architectures previsouly supported, on say, only the Power and Mainframe processor ranges.

Also, by further enhancing QuickTransit, and driving it into the IBM microcode/firmware layer, thus making it more reliable, providing higher performance by reducing duplicate instruction handling, they could effectively eliminate future SPARC based hardware utilising the UNIX based Power hardware, PowerVM virtualization. This would also have the effect taking this level of emulation mainstream and negating much of the transient(pun intended) nature typically associated with this sort of technology.

Finally, by acquiring SUN, IBM would eliminate any IP barriers that might occur due to the nature of the implementation of the SPARC instruction set.

That’s not to say that there are not any problems to overcome. First, as it currently stands the emulation tends to map calls from one OS into another, rather than operating at a pure architecture level. Pushing some of the emulation down into the firmware/microcode layer wouldn’t help emulation of CALL SOLARIS API with X, Y, even if it would emulate the machine architecture instructions that execute to do this. So, is IBM really committed to becoming a first class SOLARIS provider? I don’t see any proof of this since the earlier announcement. Solaris on Power is pretty non-existentThe alternative is that IBM is to use Transitive technology to map these calls into AIX, which is much more likely.

In economic downturns, big, cash rich companies are kings. Looking back over the last 150 years there are plenty of examples of big buying competitors and emerging from the downturn even more powerful. Ultimately I believe that the proprietary chip business is dead, it’s just a question of how long it takes for it to die and if regulators feel that by allowing mergers and acquisitions in this space is good or bad for the economy and the economic recovery.

So, there’s a thought. As I said, I don’t work at IBM.

(1) It is mildly ammusing to see that one of the few pages left extoles the virtues of the Transitive technology by one Mendel Rosenblum, formerly Chief Scientist and co-founder of VMWare.

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.

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.

Redbooks on PowerVM and PowerVM Lx86

New Redbooks covering some of the key announcements from this week:

  1. PowerVM Virtualization on IBM System p Introduction and Configuration Fourth Edition – Draft(thanks to Monte and Scott for fixing up the title 🙂 ).
  2. PowerVM Virtualization on IBM System p Managing and Monitoring – currently a draft.
  3. Getting started with PowerVM Lx86
  4. i5/OS Program Conversion: Getting Ready for i5/OS V6R1 – draft

On PowerVM, Lx86 and virtualization of Windows

PowerVM logo Yesterday saw the announcement of a re-packaging, re-branding and new technology drive for POWER™ Virtualization now PowerVM™. You can see the full announcement here. It is good to be back working on VM, sorta.

Over on, Alessandro Perilli, says we are “missing the market in any case because its platform is unable to virtualize Windows operating systems”. I say not.

POWER isn’t Windows, it’s not x86 hardware. We scale much, much higher, perform much better and generally offer high availability features and function as standard or an add-on, way ahead of Windows. Running Windows on PowerVM and Power hardware would pick-up some of the reliability features of the hardware transparently, and the workload consolodation potential would be very attractive. What it comes down to though, is what it would take to virtualize Windows on PowerVM?

We could do it. We could add either hardware simulation or emulation or more likely translation that would allow the x86 architecture or Windows itself to be supported on PowerVM. There would be ongoing issues with the wide variety of h/w drivers and related issues, but lets put those aside for now.

We could have gone down a similar route to the old Bristol Technologies WIND/U WIN32 licensing and technology route, porting and running a subset of WIN32 or even via mono or .net. We might even call it PowerVM Wx86. Just reverse engineering MS technology is neither the right idea from a technology or business perspective.

So technically it could be done one way or another. The real question though is the same as the discussion about supporting Solaris on Power. Yes, it would be great to have the mother of all binary or source compatibility virtualization platforms. However, as always the real issue is not if it could be done, but how would you support your applications? After all isn’t it about “applications, applications, applications“?

And there’s the rub. If you wanted to run middleware and x86 binary applications on POWER hardware, then you’d need support for the binaries. For middleware, most of the industries leading middleware is already available on either of AIX, i5/OS or Linux on Power, some is available on all three. What would software vendors prefer to do in this case? Would they be asked to support an existing binary stack on Windows on PowerVM, or would they prefer to just continue to support the native middleware stacks that benefit directly from the Power features?

Most would rather go with the native software and not incur the complexities and additional support costs of running in an emulated or simulated environment. The same is true of most customer applications, especially those for which the customer doesn’t have easy or ready access to the source code for Windows applications.

In the x86 market, the same isn’t true, there’s less risk supporting virtualization such as Xen or VMware

The same isn’t true with PowerVM Lx86 applications. First because of the close affinity between Linux and Linux on POWER. There are already existing Linux on Power distributions, the source code is available, and most system calls are transparent and can be easily mapped into Linux on POWER. Second, drivers, device support etc. is handled natively within either the POWER hardware, PowerVM or within the Linux operating system, running in the PowerVM partition. Thirdly, IBM has worked with SuSe and RedHat to make the x86 runtime libraries available on Linux on POWER. Finally, many middleware packages already run on Linux on POWER, or it is available as open source and can be compiled to run on Linux on POWER.

All of which makes it a very different value proposition. Using NAS or SAN storage, it is perfectly possible to run the same binaries currently or as needed on x86 and PowerVM. The compilcations of doing this, the software stack required, as well as the legal conditions for running Windows binaries just don’t make it worth the effort.

Although not identical, many of the same issues arise running Solaris, either Solaris x86, or OpenSolaris PowerPC port. So, thats a wrap for now, still many interesting things going on here in Austin, I really well get back to the topic of Amazon, EC2 and loud computing, memo to self.

PAVE open beta

Here is a new twist to the “old” server consolidation story, literally.

We’ve opened up the beta program for the IBM System p Application Virtual Environment or p AVE. What p AVE does allow the consolidation x86 Linux Workloads on System P Servers.

You can take advantage of the Advanced Power Virtualization to move your Linux binaries from older Intel servers to just one(or more) Power based servers.

One of the things we want to get out of the beta program is some real world performance feedback. Since System p AVE will allow most x86 Linux binaries to run unmodified and take advantage of the Power based servers not just for execution speed and throughput that many Linux apps will experience, but allow you to make power, cooling and space savings by consolidating x86 server footprints onto System p and switching the old servers off.

From the beta announce:

“Applications should run, without any change to the application and without having to predefine that application to the Linux on POWER operating system with p AVE installed. The system will “just know” the application is a Linux x86 binary at runtime and run it automatically in a p AVE environment. Behind the scenes, p AVE creates a virtual x86 environment and file structure, and executes x86 Linux applications by dynamically translating and mapping x86 instructions and system calls to a POWER Architecture™ processor-based system. It uses caching to optimize performance, so an application’s performance can actually increase the longer it runs.”

Here is some more detail in a recent IBM p ave Redpaper

For those that don’t or can’t take part in the beta, IBM intends to make this capability generally available in second half of 2007.

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 am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( 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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