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Virtualization soars on Big Blue Power boxes

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It looks like server virtualization really is heading for the mainstream on Power Systems machines. If some figures provided by the top brass at IBM are any indication.

While logical partitioning has been available on OS/400-based servers since V4R4 was launched with the Northstar PowerPC servers back in 1999, virtualization on Power-based servers from IBM has been embraced mostly by big shops with big iron even as Linux and AIX partitions were added to the logical partitioning mix.

But not so any more, says Scott Handy, vice president of marketing and strategy for IBM's Power Systems division. Handy keeps track of the attachment rate of the various editions of the PowerVM hypervisor on all Power Systems as they come out the door and has details on prior Power5 and Power5+ servers and the Virtualization Engine (AS/400) and Advanced Power Virtualization (RS/6000) hypervisors.

The overall adoption rate for Power6-based servers in the fourth quarter rose a little bit to 66 per cent of all machines, according to Handy, which is up a little bit from the 64 per cent attach rate on new systems in the second quarter of 2008. Overall adoption of the logical partitioning hypervisor came to 21 per cent of machines, for all System p boxes running AIX or Linux back in the second quarter of 2007.

In excess of 90 per cent of Power 595 machines, the highest-performance servers that Big Blue makes, had the PowerVM hypervisor installed on them as they left IBM's factories, and customers tended to buy PowerVM Enterprise Edition, too, which you would expect. In the fourth quarter of 2008, 68 per cent of Power 570s had PowerVM installed, and 70 per cent of Power 550s did too, which is a respectable attach rate for midrange and beefy midrange machines. But here's the shocker: In Q4, PowerVM was installed on 50 per cent of Power 520 machines. That's up from a mere 11 per cent install rate in the third quarter of 2008.

IBM does not say how much money it is generating from PowerVM or the other systems software that is sold through the Power Systems division (rather than Software Group), but Handy says that even as IBM has unbundled the logical partitioning hypervisor from the i platform (it was always a priced feature with p boxes), offered an inexpensive PowerVM Express Edition, and lowered the prices on the various editions, the company has nonetheless been able to boost sales by 70 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the year-ago quarter.

Clearly, making it up in volume is working.

Getting a handle on server virtualization adoption on other platforms is a bit tougher, but Simon Crosby, chief technology officer at the Virtualization and Management division of Citrix Systems, which sells the commercial XenServer hypervisor and related tools for X64 platforms, said that data he has obtained from IT analysts Gartner indicates that somewhere between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of currently shipping X64 platforms have a virtual machine hypervisor from Citrix, VMware, Microsoft, and others preinstalled, and he added that in 2010, Gartner expects that number to jump to 50 per cent.

So the Power Systems machines are a year or two ahead in server virtualization adoption compared to X64 platforms. And many AS/400 shops will have adopted virtualization a decade or more ahead of X64 shops. No surprises there. ®

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