IBM PureFlex Systems hide complexity while also helping customers avoid virtualization vendor lock-in.
Hiding complexity – it has become the mantra of technology providers. As customers’ IT resources continue to be stretched, staffs are asked to do more, and budgets remain flat or growing slightly, the demand for systems and interfaces that make operations simpler is increasing.
We understand that – and with this customer requirement in mind, IBM created the PureFlex System. However, at IBM we still think that there are certain choices that should not be taken out of customers’ hands because it will limit their agility now – and in the future.
What is PureFlex?
The PureFlex System is one part of the IBM PureSystems family of offerings that IBM announced back in April. PureSystems offer clients an alternative to current enterprise computing models, where multiple and disparate systems require significant resources to set up and maintain. In particular, the PureFlex System enables organizations to more efficiently create and manage an infrastructure. In a sense, the PureFlex System provides the most basic set of compute elements – bringing together server, storage, and networking, as well as management and virtualization in one integrated offering. The result is that clients can start their deployment journey with much already done for them by the factory at IBM. With the built-in management node that we have in PureFlex, as well as how all the compute, storage and network components fit together, we are answering a clear need in the market.
Think of it as infrastructure ready to be used as a service that also includes with it an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) private cloud management software, IBM SmartCloud Entry, so you can stand up an IaaS private cloud as well.
But just because we are packaging up the pieces for easy deployment, it does not mean that we are taking away choice and flexibility from customers to sculpt the system to fit individual needs and make adjustments later as needed. Far from it.
Deployment Choice with Room to Grow
PureFlex is designed to be deployed in a variety of sizes and scales so it can be used by large enterprises or mid-size customers. PureFlex comes in three flavors - Express, Standard, and Enterprise, which are starting points in terms of the size infrastructure customers want.
- Express is designed for small and medium businesses and is the lowest price entry point.
- Standard is optimized for application servers with supporting storage and networking and is intended to support key ISV solutions.
- Enterprise is targeted at scalable cloud deployments and has built-in redundancy to support critical applications and cloud services.
Of course, you can always add capacity and scale and grow. And there are mechanisms to pay as you grow, both from a hardware perspective and from the cloud or service aspect. Essentially, it is designed for and is targeted at a broad swath of customers - not just the mid-market or large enterprise. As the name implies, flexibility is in the PureFlex System’s DNA.
Choice of Hypervisor, Architecture, Operating Systems: Choice in the Same Platform
In terms of the virtualization environment that you can get within the PureFlex Systems, there is choice there as well. You certainly have the x86 virtualization environments, KVM, Microsoft Hyper-V, and VMware’s vSphere. The PureFlex line also includes compute nodes that are based on the IBM Power CPUs, so the virtualized environment in that case is based on PowerVM as the hypervisor. The result is that you get multiple hypervisors, multiple CPU architectures, and also therefore multiple operating systems that are supported within the same platform.
We are hearing from clients, from analysts, and other sources that multiple x86 hypervisors are more frequently being deployed within the same data center. In fact according to a recent study of 345 IT professionals by the Gabriel Consulting Group, almost half of the respondents said they were using two or three hypervisors, and 18% were using four or more hypervisors. “Hyperversity” as Gabriel put it, is increasingly the choice. With the mixture of hypervisors becoming more common, any platform that can enable that and provide a common user experience like PureFlex is designed to do, provides a lot of advantages. Increasingly, customers are rethinking what best suits their needs and their requirements.
With PureFlex, each compute node uses a specific CPU architecture, and then on that CPU architecture, a specific hypervisor – but multiple CPU architecture and hypervisor choices can be inside a single chassis. That enables them to share the networking or the shared storage and also the management - both for hardware and also for virtual resources - that are in the chassis as well as that are in the Flex System Manager node which provides multi-chassis management. Things that can be kept common are kept common and then per compute node you can have a different virtualization environment.
The appeal for KVM comes from its performance, security, and other advantages. For example, particularly in an integrated system such as PureSystem, where the complexity is hidden from the customer, we are able to integrate KVM more completely with the PureFlex system than we can for Hyper-V or vSphere. KVM is part of Linux and as a result IBM has access to the KVM source code, an IBM development team contributing to KVM, and a relationship with Red Hat that allows us to customize the build.
Our customers want the ability to change hypervisors. With PureFlex they can start out with one hypervisor and migrate to a different hypervisor without reconfiguring the system, including the management infrastructure.
This is relevant because although customers want the simplicity of an integrated system, they may need customization for particular workloads, not a cookie-cutter approach. PureFlex provides the ease of use that is required, but still enables choice on a range of levels to provide flexibility – now and in the future.
Jean Staten Healy
Director, Worldwide Linux and Open Virtualization, IBM