The notable announcement of embedded hypervisor support follows the Sept. 5 news from Palo Alto, Calif.-based XenSource Inc. that it will be the first virtualization provider to offer an embedded hypervisor, called XenExpress OEM Edition.
A hypervisor is a thin layer of software that sits between hardware and an operating system and allows multiple operating systems to run in parallel. With a hypervisor embedded in a server, software setup and installation is eliminated, so a server is ready for virtualization right out of the box.
Jay Bretzmann, manager of System x offerings, said IBM has not written its own hypervisor code but will provide a general-support capability for embedded hypervisors. An internal USB interface will accommodate chip-based or "embedded" virtualization software preloaded on a 4 GB USB flash storage device.
Due to nondisclosure agreements, Bretzmann could not confirm support for embedded hypervisors from VMware or even XenSource at press time, saying "stay tuned" for this information. An announcement is expected Tuesday.
"We built this platform with virtualization in mind and want to support anyone who provides [an embedded hypervisor]," Bretzmann said.
Vendors on the hypervisor train
Chris Wolf, an analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said XenSource's and VMware's announcements of embedded hypervisor releases will likely be followed by Microsoft once the company releases a Windows server virtualization offering in 2008.
Wolf predicts that hardware vendors other than IBM will announce support for embedded hypervisors, and some have already confirmed.
For example, in anticipating the release of integrated hypervisor technology, Hewlett-Packard Co. had the forethought to design internal USB ports for all of its HP ProLiant and HP BladeSystem server designs as of midyear 2006, said Paul Miller VP of marketing enterprise storage and servers.
"We are taking a different approach than IBM by offering broad support through our entire ProLiant line. We've already shipped 3.5 million servers that have an internal USB key to support embedded hypervisors," Miller said.
HP will ship the servers with the embedded hypervisor of a customer's choice as they become available, Miller said.
"We see trends in this direction, so we'll be agnostic to customer choice and provide them all, from VMware or XenSource or anyone else," Miller said.
Blade server vendor Verari Systems confirmed it is currently investigating the KVM embedded hypervisor with Intel Corp. and is also using an unnamed third-party embedded hypervisor for XenExpress. Verari will also look for other ways to implement ESX based on future VMWare ESX upgrades, a Verari spokesperson said.
Wolf said companies deploying storage area network-based virtualization environments will be able to purchase servers with embedded hypervisors that reside in a flash memory instead of servers with internal hard disks for storage.
"[Embedded hypervisors] will change the way servers are ordered in the long term. Instead of ordering a server with an OS, you will order one with an embedded hypervisor," Wolf said.
Analyst Gordon Haff of Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. said server-based hypervisors are a win for users because they are available on servers directly out of the box.
"There's no additional software to buy and configure," said Haff. "You may well want to complement the built-in hypervisor with additional virtualization services, management software and the like. But the foundation's in place. So I see this more about simplicity than enhanced virtualization as such."
For decades, IBM has offered embedded virtualization technologies in its systems; first on the mainframe 40 years ago and, over the past few years, on IBM's Power platforms, said Sean C. Amore, a spokesperson with IBM Software and Systems groups.
"IBM believes the x86 market is maturing to the point where making virtualization part of the core system capabilities -- so the system is virtualization-ready right out of the box -- is appropriate," said Amore.
IBM's builds on Intel Xeon quad core
The IBM X4 chipset leverages the latest Intel Xeon 7300 quad-core processor technology in the System x3950 M2 server. The X4 substitutes the Clarksboro chipset on the Xeon 7300 (code-named Caneland) platform.
When IBM ships the X4, it will scale up to 16 quad-core processors or 32 dual-core processors. The third-generation X3 scales up to 32 dual-core processors today, Bretzmann said.
The X architectures do not substitute into Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) processor chipsets, because AMD has a unique Direct Connect Architecture that doesn't allow for substitutions. IBM is able to innovate with Intel because of Intel's front-side bus.
The X4 will be available during the fourth quarter of this year. Pricing is not available at this time.
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