Divide and Conquer

Escalating total cost of ownership and increasingly complex computing environments are forcing the region's end users to consolidate their IT infrastructures. Partitioning at the server level helps them do this as it enables more effective resource allocation and easier management. However, whether to opt for hardware or software partitioning remains the biggest dilemma.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 24, 2003

I|~||~||~|As more businesses look to drive down costs and boost service levels, consolidation has become a top priority for many IT departments in the region. Whether it be servers, storage, applications, management tools or mail servers, the aim is the same — reduce physical numbers, ease management and lower costs.

“Today, businesses need to produce more for less,” says Samer Karawi, marketing manager, business critical systems, HP UAE, Gulf & Levant. “The pressure is building to ensure that there is not just a return on investment, but a return on IT as well. Big enterprises, therefore, are looking at IT consolidation to provide an immediate and dramatic improvement to their infrastructure.”

69% of enterprises across the world are embarking on some form of IT consolidation, according to Gartner Group. Given the speed with which many businesses deployed servers to support the client server paradigm and run new applications, the need for consolidation is not surprising.

“Hardware was cheaper then while performance was increasing. So it was easy to add servers on the fly. Some businesses that started with 20 servers two years ago have ended up with 40 today,” says Haider Salloum, marketing manager, Microsoft South Gulf.

However, simply adding a new server each time a new application was required has begun to take its toll. The proliferation of upgrading systems has become confusing, workload management has become tougher, operational efficiencies have been compromised and the total cost of ownership (TCO) has shot up.

To help users overcome these problems and consolidate their IT infrastructures at the server level, the big name vendors have begun to build partitioning technology into their products. This allows IT managers to dynamically resize an application’s resource footprint, while ensuring that all apps enjoy protection from disruptive events that can cause service interruption or performance degradation. It also enables a more flexible isolation of applications, improved resource sharing and workload management. In other words, it allows them to consolidate their server environments.

||**||II|~||~||~|Five years ago, Emirates Airline’s IT services arm, Mercator, deployed Sun Microsystems’ E10000 servers and recently upgraded to Sun Fire 15K boxes for this very reason. The airline’s rapid expansion had created an environment in which forklift upgrades were the norm and a burgeoning number of servers were required to meet its application requirements. The resulting management headaches and spiralling TCO meant something had to be done. Partitioning was identified as the best course of action.

“Mercator required the Sun Fire 15K server’s mainframe class level of availability, as well as its increased flexibility to allocate resources to specific applications, users or groups,” comments Frank Zenke, Mercator’s technical development manager.

In fact, dynamic resource allocation is one of the biggest boons of partitioning technologies; whether it is hardware, software or logical partitioning, as it allows users to make the most of existing servers.

This is key as most users frequently use no more than 25 to 30% of their system’s capabilities. “In other words, 65% of the cost of each one of those systems is wasted because they are sitting there idle and you are paying a million dollars for each of those systems,” explains Johan Muller, sales and technology manager, Sun Microsystems Middle East.

The solution, he says, lies in putting all these systems into one machine, so that when utilisation peaks, the processing power and other resources can be moved dynamically depending on the time or specific performance requirements.
Most server vendors offer this capability, but to varying degrees. There are, for instance, those that can provide more partitioning capacity and greater granularity, and others that can support heterogeneous environments. Just which partitioning technology users end up opting for depends on a number of factors, such as the need for dynamic or static reconfiguration, the granularity of resources that can be reconfigured, the impact of reconfiguration rebooting , shared resources (CPUs, memory and I/O paths) and the maximum number of partitions.

||**||III|~||~||~|“Sometimes clients are too soft when it comes to making a decision. They need to take a look at the total picture before making up their mind. With us, however, it’s easy because we offer both hardware and software partitioning solutions,” says Muller. “At the same time, if you look at logical partitioning (LPAR), we have that as well. If a customer purchases Solaris 9, it has the functionality built into it. There is no additional costing for utilising that,” he adds.

According to Muller, 99% of Sun’s customers use hardware partitioning. As such, the vendor caters to this preference by delivering partitioning to both medium and high-end enterprises with products such as its V-series and the Sun-fire range.
Like Sun, Microsoft will also soon make partitioning an integral part of its operating system. The software vendor recently acquired the intellectual property rights to Connectix’s Virtual machine (VM) technology, and it will be available as a service pack with Windows 2003. However, Microsoft is currently only targeting businesses that are upgrading or moving from one environment to another, such as Unix to Windows or from Windows NT to Windows 2003.

Although IBM’s much-touted logical partitioning is similar to software partitioning in that it enables a single server to function as multiple servers, LPAR is generally implemented through firmware as software partitioning introduces an additional layer of system software.

IBM’s LPAR servers, like the iSeries and the zSeries, support multiple operating environments under one platform, which is attractive to high end enterprises running mission critical operations in a heterogeneous environment. The LPAR server enables each partition to function as a logical server and maps the system’s resources to each logical partition by giving each one the ability to think that all the resources are dedicated to it. So important is partitioning to IBM that its zSeries now allows businesses to have unlimited number of partitions with multiple operating systems.

However, Muller suggests that this capability will go unused by most customers, as the majority of them run the same operating system on all partitions. “Any customer that has a big environment does not want to have five different operating systems,” he says.

||**||IV|~||~||~|“But if a customer should decide to run multiple operating systems on a system, the implications of that when it comes to consultancy, and licensing in terms of the number of volume managers, databases and the utilities is enormous. This is a very costly exercise and defeats the whole purpose of consolidation,” he explains.

As such, Sun usually recommends one operating system to reduce TCO. “Then, if the customer requires another OS for some future development that he is doing, and beta testing for that, we say we’ll cut a hard partition into the system,” adds Muller.

HP is the only other vendor in the region, apart from Sun, to offer both hardware and software partitioning options. Its most favoured partitioning solution is the Hyperplex.

“Hyperplex is able to consolidate different servers in one partition. This is very unique to HP because it is a combination of management and cluster technology, where you are creating one single node out of multiple nodes and multiple components of a cluster,” says HP’s Karawi.

“It allows users to deal with all these elements as one partition instead of having multiple partitions in one server. We can also have a conglomerate and create one partition out of many servers,” he explains.

||**||V|~||~||~|Furthermore, all HP’s servers are Itanium ready, which means the vendor will be able to support multiple operating systems such as Linux, HPUX (HP’s version of Unix), Windows 2003 and Open VMS. This, in turn, should make it more attractive to clients wishing to partition applications for heterogeneous environments.

Just which partitioning technology is best is unclear. Karim Saba, director, large enterprise, international sales, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, says the answer depends on the nature of the customer’s business and the maturity of their platforms.

Microsoft’s Salloum suggests that although hardware partitioning is best if performance is key, software partitioning is the best option if compatibility is more crucial.

Brian Richardson, programme director for server infrastructure strategies at Meta Group, also backs software partitioning. “We generally recommend a software-based partitioning approach to allow for better resource utilisation. We find that hardware based partitioning is generally not dynamic enough and not as flexible as software based partitioning,” he says. ||**||

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