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Hyper over hypervisors

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IBM this week marched its virtualization agenda forward on two fronts, announcing new code for beastly mainframes and some labs-crafted software for thin x86 systems.

Big Blue has spent a few years banging out about the idea of running hundreds of Linux virtual machines on top of a mainframe. It's a nice way to put a modern spin on grizzled kit.

With release 5.3 of z/VM, customers now run even more virtual machines - up to a 1,000 of the bastards on a single copy of the hypervisor. We're not so sure that many customers will need virtual machines in such quantities, but IBM likes to throw out the big numbers.

More importantly, IBM has bulked up z/VM on a number of fronts.

New page table allocation makes it possible to support far more real storage than today's 128GB limit with each z/VM image. "This can benefit customers with large amounts of real storage, and may help reduce or eliminate the need to spread large workloads across multiple z/VM images," IBM said. "Better z/VM management of real storage can benefit most customers who experience storage constraints, regardless of the amount of central storage configured for z/VM use."

Customers will also find that up to 32 real processors will be allowed per z/VM image with Version 5.3 - up from 24 processors. "Generally, z/VM overhead is expected to be lower with fewer, more CPU-intensive guests than with many lightly loaded guests," IBM noted, dampening its 1,000 virtual image charge.

The new release improves the memory management of Linux guests as well.

You'll find all the gory details here, including word that the software doesn't actually ship until late June.

Adding to its enthusiasm for unreleased software, IBM talked up the sHype code produced by its labs team.

This is a secure "wrapper" that IBM hopes to see developers strap to hypervisors made by other software companies, particularly those hypervisors meant for x86 servers from the likes of Xen, VMware and Microsoft.

IBM has been talking up sHype for awhile, making its news statement about "revealing a new software technology" less enthralling. That, however, doesn't make the technology itself uninteresting.

The IBM researchers have brought the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) spec over to hypervisors. "Our goal here is secure boot or authenticated boot code guarantees for the hypervisor platform, Virtual Machines, and optionally the guest operating systems and applications running on Virtual Machines," the engineers said on the sHype web site. "To support a large number of Virtual Machines, we have developed a virtual TPM architecture which we have applied to the Xen open-source hypervisor.

"sHype provides the base infrastructure for disaggregation of services, such as security policy management or distributed auditing, into smaller and more manageable protected execution environments, thereby enabling their system-wide utilization and potentially enhancing the assurance of these services."

In actual fact, you can find sHype in Xen today, although IBM considers the software a work in progress. Big Blue is looking to take its code to non-x86 systems down the road.

IBM ended up picking a funny week to announce all this virtualization work. Its close partner VMware - a subsidiary of EMC - revealed plans to go public.

IBM and HP both made eyes at the uber-successful software start-up before EMC snatched it in 2004. No use crying over lucrative split milk and all that, we suppose. ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

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