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IBM tackles the virtual data center

The focus of IT management is shifting from the physical to the virtual and from the single server to the many.

It used to be that system management products were for the care and feeding of individual servers. They could deal with many of them, sure, and might even have had tools aimed at automating repetitive operations. But, fundamentally, they mostly looked at systems in isolation.

Enterprise management tools, on the other hand, looked at the IT infrastructure big picture. Sophisticated and complex, tools like CA's Unicenter, HP's OpenView, and IBM's Tivoli were the aggregation point for alerts and reports about the health of an organization's IT. But they rarely actually did anything; they watched for problems but it was other software or system administrators that had to actually swing into action.

The bottoms-up orientation of system management tended to win out over time. Enterprise management was never displaced--exactly. But it did long seem as if many of the products in the enterprise management space sat far from where the interesting action was in the data center.

However, today, we're seeing a shift to system management that happens at the level of the data center as a whole or at least a virtualized pool of systems and applications. Virtualization is one of the drivers here. Another is "private clouds" or, if you prefer, a more dynamic and services-oriented view of IT resources.

As a result, system management products are starting to take on more and more of the roles that were traditionally associated with enterprise management. We're also seeing systems management meet enterprise management in the middle, so to speak. IBM's VMControl announcement on October 20 is a case in point.

As IBM puts it in their release: "VMControl allows combinations of physical and virtual IBM servers to be managed as a single entity. This approach--known as system pooling--expands the benefits of virtualization by helping corporate data centers simplify complex management functions and better share and prioritize use of critical resources such as processing power, memory and storage."

The new product, IBM Systems Director VMControl Enterprise Edition, is focused on virtualized environments. It supports IBM's PowerVM and z/VM as well as x86 virtualization technologies such as VMWare, Hyper-V and open x86 virtualization solutions. IBM plans to first offer it on IBM Power Systems running AIX in December, 2009 with other platforms coming next year.

VMControl Enterprise Edition works in concert with Tivoli; IBM also announced "a new version of Tivoli Provisioning Manager that provides enhanced automation of the manual tasks of provisioning and configuring servers, operating systems, middleware, software applications, storage and network devices." As I've discussed previously, Tivoli is very much a central part of how IBM views cloud computing and therefore how it thinks about the evolution of the enterprise data center.

PowerVM itself, as its full name implies, is part of IBM's Systems Director family. This is IBM's systems management portfolio; rough counterparts are HP Systems Insight Manager, Dell OpenManage, and Sun xVM Ops Center. Systems Director has been the recipient of considerable development and marketing attention in recent years that have greatly improved its integration across IBM's disparate product lines as well as its overall functionality.

Virtualization is no longer just about server consolidation. It does that, sure, and thereby reduces the number of physical servers that an organization needs to purchase. But, especially in enterprises, it's increasingly as much about resource pools and services (such as disaster recovery) enabled by virtualization as it is about consolidation. And that makes the need for management more rather than less.