System management software tuned for server platforms and created by the server's maker has been a key account control factor in the server market for more than a decade. While nothing beats the old-fashioned legacy application lock-in of mainframes and proprietary systems of days gone by, the hassle of using multiple and not necessarily compatible system management tools gives about as much account control as the modern IT market will accept.
Which is why we are not all running blade servers in our data centers - people don't like to pay a premium for a form factor that gives vendors something that smells an awful lot like hardware lock-in. But that's another story.
Hewlett-Packard, thanks to its acquisition of Compaq many years back, inherited what has become a pretty sophisticated set of system management tools, called Insight, that it has enhanced significantly over the years and expanded out from the ProLiant x86 and now x64 server line to HP's Itanium-based Integrity servers.
Today, HP is putting some tweaks into the Insight tools in the arms race between server makers to make managing their systems easier and to also allow them to manage more than just uptime. They want to also balance performance against energy consumption in physical and virtual environments.
Since marketeers get control of the language in IT, HP has an over-arching name for what it is trying to create with servers, storage, and systems software: Adaptive Infrastructure. One key part of this is a set of tools called Insight Dynamics-Virtual Server Environment, the latter part of that term coming from the nPar hardware and vPar virtual partition technologies that started out on HP's HP-UX platforms that have subsequently been ported to Itanium chips and expanded to cover Windows and Linux operating systems.
There is a mix and match of hypervisors - HP supports a mix of hypervisors on x64 iron and has created its own for Itanium and PA-RISC chips, called Integrity Virtual Machines - but the idea is to have as consistent set of tools as possible across the ProLiant and Integrity boxes. And it is also a work in progress.
Hypervisor party people
Today, the Insight Dynamics toolset will get support for Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor that is paired with the Windows Server 2008 operating system. The tools already could manage the Integrity VMs on Itanium boxes (and their nPar and vPar predecessors on PA-RISC iron) as well as VMware's ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors on ProLiant and BladeSystem blade servers. The Integrity VMs are supported on Itanium-based blades housed in BladeSystem enclosures, of course.
The XenServer hypervisor from Citrix Systems is not yet supported with Insight Dynamics tools, but HP's vice president of Insight software Mark Linesch said "Xen is clearly on the list" of hypervisors HP is looking at add support for, provided customer demand warrants it. HP supports XenServer on its ProLiants - it just doesn't have hooks into Insight Dynamics-VSE yet.
HP is also today announcing a new feature for the system management tool called Insight Orchestration, which standardizes and automates the deployment of multiple-tier software stacks across HP machinery. Insight Orchestrator has a graphical tool akin to Microsoft's Visio that allows system administrators to lay out the iron in various tiers, the networks that link them to each other and to end users, and the storage area network and network-attached storage that they access.
Each machine is given a all the specifications for the software and settings on each tier, and administrators can save multiple configurations - such as small, medium, and large configs for each tier to address different-sized workloads - in a template. These templates are then placed into a self-service portal that allows software engineers, software testers, and system administrators to deploy the server, storage, and network resources they need to do their work or to move workloads into production. The workflow engine embedded in the feature can link into existing change management systems and is capable of allocating resources for anywhere from an hour to indefinitely.
Insight Orchestration is akin to VMware's Lab Manager orchestration tool for its virtual machine environments, but according to Linesch there are two big differences. HP's Insight Orchestrator feature works on physical as well as virtual servers - meaning you can describe and deploy software stacks on a single piece of iron that is not virtual, which VMware Lab Manager cannot do - and it is intended for development as well as production deployments.'
The Insight Orchestration feature costs $795 per server and is currently available for ProLiant or BladeSystem servers using x64 processors running Windows or Linux. Later this year, support for Integrity machines will be added, and it is likely that HP-UX, Windows, and Linux will all be supported as physical or virtual environments. But HP made no promises.
Another new feature announced today for the Insight Dynamics-VSE toolset is called Insight Recovery, and this is an alternative means of disaster recovery for ProLiant and Integrity machines to clustering technologies such as HP's own MC ServiceGuard high availability software that is bundled with some versions of its HP-UX operating system.
Insight Recovery takes advantage of the Continuous Access data replication software built into HP's midrange StorageWorks EVA disk arrays and allows a physical or virtual machine running on one server to be recovered and started on another server at a remote recovery site. Obviously, you need EVA arrays in both sites, and they have to be linked for data replication.
The Insight Recovery feature is available on BladeSystem machines in physical mode (using VirtualConnect) or using VMware hypervisors on ProLiant rack and blade servers in virtual mode; support for other hypervisors as well as for Itanium-based machines is coming later this year. Pricing was not announced for this feature.
In a minor tweak to the Insight Dynamics stack that does relate to Integrity blade servers, HP now says that it can do live migration of VM guests between Itanium-based blades equipped with the Insight Dynamics-VSE virtualization environment using the VirtualConnect I/O virtualization electronics in the c3000 and c7000 BladeSystem chasses.
The Insight Dynamics tool has also been updated to gather capacity planning information from Windows-based servers built by IBM, Dell, Sun Microsystems, and others in an effort to allow system administrators to do what-if scenarios concerning moving workloads off those boxes and onto physical or virtualized ProLiant and Integrity servers. This capacity planning update is not available for non-HP iron running Linux or other operating systems, but it could in the future. ®