The data center has evolved much over the past 20 years. Dinosaurs once ruled in the form of mainframes. Mini-computers starting replacing them, and then came open systems in the form of Unix. Eventually Windows-on-Intel servers started to rule, with servers actually moving out of the data center entirely in some cases.
When people realized how expensive and difficult it was to maintain and support that kind of decentralized environment, we came full circle back to the data center and, inspired by mainframe technology, we started scaling vertically again.
IBM's POWER5 architecture is a clear example of this. Six years ago, you needed 70-100 stand-alone IBM RS6000 servers (or 200 clustered PCs) to run a large portal-based infrastructure, but today you can get by with two IBM p5 servers through IBM's Advanced Power Virtualization (APV).
APV provides for the logical partitioning of servers and micro-partitioning of CPUs. Sun's virtualization strategy uses containers to require every virtual host on the server to have the same exact OS. There can be only one kernel per server/frame. With IBM's model, each logical partition runs its own operating system and kernel, so you can use Unix or Linux.
The technology itself is not new at all. It's borrowed from mainframes and recycled into the world of the midrange. IBM's top-of-the-line p595 actually looks just like a mainframe. It is also designed to function like one, from its virtualization capabilities to resource management and mean time to failure (MTTF) availability not previously seen on hardware running Unix or Linux.
Customers are moving in droves from Sun to IBM in order to have the flexibility to run Unix and Linux. Because CIO's have recognized the capabilities of IBM's midrange technology, IBM actually has overtaken Sun and HP in sales of high-end Unix servers.
I can't reiterate enough the importance of being able to run supported versions of both Unix and Linux on IBM's POWER5 architecture. Scaling vertically also has many other data center benefits such as cutting down on power, cooling and the footprint necessary to house servers. It's all about the ROI.
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This was first published in October 2006