Virtual Iron, IBM, HP package virtualization on blades for SMBs

Virtual Iron, HP and IBM are pushing blades and virtualization into small and medium-sized business markets through more affordable offerings.

Server virtualization provider Virtual Iron Software Inc. is targeting small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with preconfigured software bundled on several Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. server platforms.

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Why wed blade servers to server virtualization?

The preconfigured virtualization and management offerings are available on platforms best suited for the SMB space to bring server virtualization and management software to an underserved market, said Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer at the Lowell, Mass.-based virtualization software company.

"SMBs have not been able to enjoy virtualization benefits as much as the enterprise-sized] businesses have because they are price-sensitive, Grandinetti said, "but they need the same management and technology capabilities. Two-thirds of our customers are SMBs, and we wanted to make a product on reliable platforms those customers can afford."

Virtual Iron's software is comparable to VMware Inc.'s virtualization software and is a fraction of the price, Grandinetti said.

Two-thirds of our customers are SMBs, and we wanted to make a product on reliable platforms those customers can afford.
Mike Grandinetti,
chief marketing officerVirtual Iron Software Inc.

"At the end of the day, the ability to move workloads around, to expand and contract workloads, to make full use of your investment – for that you really need virtualization. Over time, I would not be surprised if the install rate of blades and virtualization went up dramatically," Grandinetti said.

And SMBs are seeing the benefits of a virtualizing-with-blades strategy. Gentry Ganote, CIO of PGA Tour Superstore switched from rack servers to HP c-Class blades early this year to alleviate cabling problems. The midsized company with 10 locations in the U.S. deployed one HP blade chassis full of c-class blades running single and dual-core Intel Xeon processors and Virtual Iron virtualization software. Ganote now runs about 12 virtual machines (VMs), with two to four VMs per blade.

"We are saving a lot of money with virtualization because of the management and ease of deployment inherent in VMs," Ganote said. "Cabling isn't a problem any longer. We can deploy new OSes easily and remotely. From a cost standpoint, it is inexpensive, and we don't need a lot of people to run them."

Virtual Iron's bundles include LiveProvisioning, a "zero touch" automated deployment capability that eliminates the need for physical installation or management of virtualization software on virtualized physical servers. Virtual Iron 4.0 also includes LiveConvert, automated "X2V" (physical-to-virtual or virtual-to-virtual) conversion software from PlateSpin Ltd. for easy migration of workloads. Virtual Iron's software is based on the latest version of the Xen open source hypervisor and includes automation capabilities from Virtual Iron such as LiveMigrate, LiveRecovery and LiveCapacity.

The products are available through Tech Data Corp.'s Advanced Infrastructure Solutions (AIS) division and resellers in North America.

The three HP bundles include the HP ProLiant DL380 G5, DL385 G5 and server blades for the new HP BladeSystem c3000 enclosure preconfigured with Virtual Iron Version 4 Extended Enterprise Edition. The software manages multiple Windows and Linux operating systems on a single node or across multiple servers or blade enclosures.

Virtual Iron's HP bundle offering stems from a relationship fostered by the two companies in April of this year, which has been very successful so far, Grandinetti said.

Virtualizing IBM rack servers
The offerings are also available on IBM System x 3455, 3500 and 3550, with Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) dual-core and quad-core processors. All three systems include hardware virtualization extensions from both processor vendors for additional improvements in virtualization performance.

The IBM bundles are available on the two rack-mount servers and one tower server for now, but there's also a possibility with BladeCenter, Grandinetti said, that is "still in process."

While tower servers have fallen out of favor in larger enterprises, they "still have a large acceptance in retail environments without a data center and for state and local governments," Grandinetti said.

The Virtual Iron software offers memory support up to 128 GB, symmetric multiprocessing SMP capabilities up to eight virtual CPUs, and the ability to virtualize server platforms with up to 32 physical CPUs. Based on the preconfiguration of the quad-core Xeon-based IBM x3500 and Virtual Iron Extended Enterprise Edition bundle, the system can support up to 40 virtual machines. By adding more memory, users can increase the number of VMs, Grandinetti said.

Blades and virtualization now for SMBs too
In other SMB technology news, both IBM and HP have recently announced blade server chassis that hold servers and storage.

Blades are one of the fastest-growing segments in the IT industry, accounting for 9.4% of all server shipments, according to Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. But these servers have been used primarily in large-scale data center deployments to alleviate space constraints. In contrast, many midmarket customers house servers in a spare closet or office and the up-front investment in blade server chassis has not been cost-effective in that market, IDC reports.

Leave it to HP and IBM to find a way to push blades into these untapped markets, however.

Earlier this month, IBM announced its new BladeCenter S chassis for small and medium-sized businesses, and HP has been pushing a comparable chassis, its HP BladeSystem c3000, which is half the size of its larger 16 bay HP c7000 sibling, reducing the required up-front investment for midmarket-scale deployments.

The HP BladeSystem c3000 enclosure holds up to up to eight AMD or Intel-based multicore dual-processor half-height blades or four full-height blades from the HP ProLiant and HP Integrity server lines. The chassis also hold up to 1 terabyte of storage (network-attached storage or iSCSI).

IBM's BladeCenter S houses both server and storage components as well. The chassis holds up to six blades, including Intel- and AMD-based blade servers, Power blades and, soon, the Cell server blades), said David Tareen at IBM BladeCenter marketing. BladeCenter S will also house the Power6 blade servers when they are announced in February, Tareen said.

IBM's decision to combine servers and storage in the same chassis is dictated by SMBs' space requirements. "SMBs don't have the extra space for storage, and they need solutions for servers and storage together," said Tareen. "It is designed for the small and medium-sized market: office environments and remote branches of large corporations, like bank branches and retail spaces."

IBM's BladeCenter S has space for a total of 12 2.5-inch disks of storage -- SAS and Serial ATA -- which can be intermixed. In all, the chassis holds up to 9 TB of storage.

For an additional cost, a special enclosure called the IBM Business Enablement (Tower) Kit can be included with a dust filter up front and a noise filter on the back for quieter operation in an office environment. No pricing was made available, but it will cost less than $1,000, Tareen said.

Analyst Joe Clabby of Clabby Analytics of Yarmouth, Maine, said after seeing a side-by-side demonstration of the HP and IBM blade chassis, he prefers IBM.

"What I noticed is this: The HP unit is much, much louder than IBM's BladeCenter S, which makes me think that people who buy HP's small-business entry are going to have to keep it in a closet to diminish the noise," Clabby said. "There was a ton of cabling involved when it came to networking additional storage to the HP in order to match the IBM 7-terabyte configuration."

"Given my previous review of HP's memory cooking design, plus the noise I heard in person, I'm not favorably disposed to the HP unit," Clabby added.

IBM first previewed its upcoming BladeCenter S in June. It appears that the company is reintroducing the product to ramp up sales to compete with HP's c-Class, which was demoed and promoted at VMworld 2007 in San Francisco last month as "Shorty." The new c-Class even has its own MySpace page.

The IBM's BladeCenter S chassis will begin shipping Dec 18, starting at $3,298. HP's c3000 goes for $4,299 according to HP's Web site.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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