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Look out, VMware. And Citrix Systems. And Microsoft. And Red Hat. And Novell. And Oracle. Here comes IBM crashing the server virtualization management party.

IBM could have - and, some might argue, should have - done its own x64 hypervisor to be a serious software player in the server virtualization racket. Up until now, the company has been content to do its own hypervisors for Power and mainframe systems and let others do the hypervisors and tools for doing neat things with virtual machines on x64 boxes (and perhaps sell some virtualization-aware add-ons to its Tivoli systems management software).

But starting this week, with a set of tools called VMControl, IBM will position itself as the maker of virtualization tools that can span all commercial hypervisors and can manage their VMs across incompatible operating systems and hypervisors. An opportunistic Switzerland, if you will, in the virtual realm.

The VMControl tools will, of course, start with IBM's own Power and mainframe platforms. According to Scott Handy - vice president of marketing and strategy for the Power Systems division and the person who is also in charge of IBM's cross-platform Systems Director server management tools - about 60 per cent of IBM's customers have mainframe, Unix, and x64 servers all in the same data center. And with virtualization being at 100 per cent on mainframes - at around 60 per cent on Unix machines, and rising fast on x64 boxes - they are clamoring for IBM to do something to help them manage the virtual machine sprawl from a single set of tools.

By making the virtualization tools part of its Systems Director tool, which spans all of IBM's server lines, the company thinks it can use the availability of a single management tool for all of those servers to help IBM better sell servers with the Blue label (x64 boxes running Windows or Linux) against the competition. That's why this tool is not coming out of the Tivoli division of Software Group, even though there is, according to Handy, plenty of code being shared between the Tivoli and Systems Director tools these days. That includes VMControl.

Systems Director VMControl V2.1 will initially come in three flavors, each of which provides successively more features. Systems Director, which spans all of IBM's platforms, already has features to allow it to discover and monitor virtual machines (called Virtualization Manager) and storage (called Storage Manager). VMControl Express is a free plug-in that will allow Systems Director to create, modify, and delete virtual machines or hook into live migration and other high availability features inherent in server hypervisors to move running VMs from machine to machine.

VMControl Express is being launched on July 24 for IBM's System x and BladeCenter machines using x64 processors and supporting Microsoft's Hyper-V and VMware's ESX Server hypervisors. It will eventually be available to support PowerVM logical partitions on IBM's Power-based servers as well as supporting the commercial variants of the Xen hypervisor from Citrix Systems and Oracle and the KVM hypervisor from Red Hat, which are deployed on IBM's x64 iron.

VMControl V2.1 Standard Edition adds image management features, similar in concept to the VM jukeboxing that VMware and Citrix Systems are peddling as "lab management" software add-ons to their hypervisors and tool stacks. Standard Edition will initially support the AIX Network Installation Management (NIM) tool, which has been given the job of managing the creation of logical partitions for the PowerVM hypervisor as it has evolved on Power-based servers and will leverage the z/VM virtual machine environment on mainframes.

The z/VM environment is currently only used to support partitions running mainframe Linux. It does not support the management of images for the flagship z/OS mainframe operating system or z/VSE. VMControl Standard Edition will be able to manage AIX and Linux images on Power servers, and Handy says that in the fourth quarter, the plug-in will be able to manage hypervisors on x64 iron, probably starting with ESX Server and Hyper-V and working out from there.

Interestingly, IBM is storing the AIX images on Power machines and the Linux images on mainframes in the DMTF's Open Virtualization Format (OVF) rather than a proprietary format. Standard Edition is not free (unlike the Express Edition) and costs $100 per server for a small machine, $600 per server for a medium machine, and $1,300 per server for a large machine. IBM will be offering it on a 60-day free trial on Power-based servers to stir up some interest and get some user feedback.

In the fourth quarter, IBM plans to release Systems Director VMControl Enterprise Edition, the details of which IBM is keeping under wraps except to say that it will have policy-based control mechanisms to treat hypervisors out on the network as pools of resources and, based on performance and loading issues on the VMs, will decide where to put what virtual machines and where to move them as conditions and hardware change.

Handy says that IBM will also create VM pool configurations that are setup at the factory for n-tier ERP systems or other common application stacks, all pre-tuned with policies in place to match the best advice that SAP, Oracle, and others give about how they should be managed in virtual environments. No word on what VMControl Enterprise Edition will cost.

There's also no word on if IBM plans to extend Systems Director to non-Blue machines. But it is safe to assume that the heterogeneous version of these VM management tools will end up in the Tivoli catalog at some point. ®

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