IBM SmartCloud Entry for IBM Power Systems

First impressions

IBM® SmartCloud™ Entry for IBM Power Systems™ is an entry-level private cloud offering from IBM for IBM POWER® processor-based systems. When the required software stack is installed and configured, the ability to deploy and manage virtual machines (VMs) becomes possible through a web front end. I recently attended the IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems workshop in Sydney, and was impressed by what I saw. The following article is my first impression of the product, albeit with limited exposure to its full potential.

Nathan Edwards (unix.ned@gmail.com), Senior Consultant

Nathan Edwards is an IBM AIX and IBM PowerVM specialist based in Melbourne, Australia. His experience with virtualization of AIX began with the introduction of IBM POWER4 processors in 2001, continuing through to the latest high-end IBM POWER7® processor architecture.



06 December 2012

Also available in Chinese

First impressions

I am a fan of the command line, so the idea of deploying a complete IBM AIX® environment by using a graphical user interface (GUI) was something I was interested in seeing.

After all, why would anyone become involved with the aesthetics of a GUI, when there is the opportunity to wallow in the beauty of commands through a Secure Shell (SSH) client?

For many years, I have been configuring Power Systems, deploying logical partitions or LPARs (VMs), and have written fully automated Network Installation Management (NIM) installations, including scripted post-build tasks which delivered full-fledged, production-ready LPARs with minimum effort. However, as we work with the ever-changing technology, I attended the workshop with an open mind, and I am very glad that I did.

The four-day workshop was led by Red Steele from IBM, who is excellent at conducting lectures and courses. The first two days were dedicated to configuring the environment (Virtual I/O Server or VIOS and VMs). The second half of the workshop was spent installing and exploring IBM SmartCloud Entry.


An overview of SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems

IBM SmartCloud Entry combines the virtualization features of IBM PowerVM® with a sleek web-based interface to deploy and manage VMs. The SmartCloud Entry software utilizes IBM Systems Director and IBM Systems Director VMControl™.

The high-level configuration used during our workshop looked as shown in the following figure.

The components required for IBM SmartCloud Entry can be installed into existing environments, and although the workshop focused on a single VIOS configuration, dual VIOS is supported. It is possible to install both Systems Director and SmartCloud Entry on one VM.


Installation time

Every environment is different, but as a guide, the configuration that was used during the workshop took 2.5 days to build and install. This included building the VIOS and LPARs, as well as installation of the required software.

Even a basic setup provides the basis to become familiar with the product and, more importantly, to realize just how simple and easy it is to deploy a new VM through it without having any knowledge of VIOS, NIM, or the Hardware Management Console (HMC).


Ease of use

Web-based front-end interfaces are supposed to be simple, free of clutter, and intuitive. That is exactly what IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems has managed to achieve.

Deploying a new VM is as simple as a few clicks and, when the AIX installation has completed, you log in to the new VM. It is as easy as that.

Of course, underneath the covers, the HMC has been busy building the LPAR profile, the VIOS has created and mapped a virtual Small Computer System Interface (VSCSI) client disk, NIM has created and set up the required NIM resources, and an unattended NIM Base Operating System (BOS) installation has been initiated and completed. But if you simply want a new VM, you do not really need to care about any of this, which is what makes IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems an excellent product.

From a purist’s perspective, the naming convention of virtual devices, such as VSCSI disks on the VIOS, or the virtual adapter numbering in the LPAR profile, might be different to what you would create yourself, but it all works very well.

The basis of building a VM is essentially deploying a MKSYSB, which, in the SmartCloud Entry front end is called an appliance.

During testing, we attempted to capture a new appliance from a VM which had more than one volume group (rootvg and datavg). Capturing a new appliance from a NIM mindset can be thought of as cloning an existing VM or LPAR.

We discovered that the MKSYSB image / appliance only contained information about rootvg, not datavg, and there did not appear the option to select multiple volume groups when attempting the capture. Therefore, even though it is very simple to deploy a new VM, it looks like further work would be required to assign storage to the VM.

Another aspect we were unable to test during the workshop was how the VSCSI disk mappings would be handled under a dual-VIOS configuration. We assumed that under a dual VIOS configuration, disks from each VIOS would be shown in SmartCloud Entry, so that one disk from each could be associated with the new VM. However, I would like to see this for myself, to see how it really behaves.


Possible uses for IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems

The self-service aspect of the solution means that it would fit very well into environments where requests for new VMs are common, as deploying a new VM using IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems is quick and easy, allowing technical staff to spend more time in other areas, on projects, for example.

Another example is where end users or consumers are charged for resources (processor, memory, disk) that are consumed by the VM whilst it is operating. It is possible to configure IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems with the metering or billing functionality. System resource utilization is collected and calculated in either units or monetary terms, for chargeback purposes. Monetary values are configurable to suit the requirements of individual organizations.

Considering that the software creates the LPAR profile and virtual adapters, manages the mapping and assigning of VSCSI disks, and installs AIX through non-prompted install, it can be said that the product is not limited to self-service, and can easily become the default means to deploy every VM, due to ease and consistency. Granted, some post tasks are likely to be required, such as assigning additional disks for other volume groups, but SmartCloud Entry is definitely taking care of a fair chunk of the work in VM deployment.


Summary

IBM SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems provides a streamlined approach to deploy and manage VMs, and the web-based front end is intuitive and easy to use. Even though it became clear during tests conducted at the workshop that further work would be required by technical staff to present storage to the VM for use with other volume groups after it was deployed, a considerable part of building a new VM is taken care of by the software.

Chargeback capability becomes possible by the metering, charging, and billing options available with SmartCloud Entry, and the administrator has the ability to configure automatic expiry of newly created VM’s. New accounts can be configured which can be assigned to separate projects, under which new VMs can be created and managed.

Unfortunately, one area that we were unable to test during the workshop was a dual-VIOS configuration. Therefore, we were unable to confirm whether VSCSI disks could be assigned to the VM from both VIOS instances during deployment, that is, one disk from VIOS1 and one disk for VIOS2, and then mirrored on AIX across the two disks for resilience. However, dual-VIOS is a supported configuration.

From my limited exposure to the product, I would not say that it is a one-stop-shop solution to a fully configured VM, because although it is possible for someone with limited SmartCloud Entry training (and no AIX or IBM PowerVM knowledge) to create a VM, technical skill is required to further configure additional disks and volume groups.

Since October 2012, AIX Enterprise Edition includes IBM SmartCloud Entry Bundle, which means that the software is ready to use.

After seeing the product in action during the workshop, I would highly recommend evaluating SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems to realize its potential within your organization.


Resources

For further reading and information on SmartCloud Entry for Power Systems, refer to the following links:

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