Canonical Kills Ubuntu Maverik Meerkat (10.10) for Itanium (and Sparc)

It wasn’t long ago that Red Hat and Microsoft released statements that they would no longer support Itanium (with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows respectively). Now Canonical has announced that Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support) will be the last supported Ubuntu on not only Itanium, but Sparc as well.

Itanium has thus lost three major operating systems (Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux) over the past year. For HP Itanium owners, this means that Integrity Virtual Machines (IVMs) running Red Hat Linux or Microsoft Windows Server will no longer have support from HP (since the operating system designer has ceased support).

The only bright spot for HP’s IVM is OpenVMS 8.4, which is supported under an IVM for the first time. However, response to OpenVMS 8.4 has been mixed.

Martin Hingley has an interesting article about how the dropping of RHEL and Windows Server from Itanium will not affect HP; I disagree. For HP’s virtual infrastructure – based on the IVM product – the two biggest environments besides HP-UX are no longer available. An interesting survey would be to find out how many IVMs are being used and what operating systems they are running now and in the future.

With the loss of Red Hat and Microsoft – and now Canonical’s Ubuntu – this provides just that many fewer options for IVMs – and thus, fewer reasons to use an HP IVM. OpenVMS could pick up the slack, as many shops may be looking for a way to take OpenVMS off the bare metal, letting the hardware be used for other things.

If HP IVMs are used less and less, this could affect the Superdome line as well, as running Linux has always been a selling point for this product. As mentioned before, this may be offset by OpenVMS installations.

This also means that Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server becomes the only supported mainstream Linux environment on Itanium – on the Itanium 9100 processor at least.

From the other side, HP’s support for Linux seems to be waning: this statement can be found in the fine print on their Linux on Integrity page:

HP is not planning to certify or support any Linux distribution on the new Integrity servers based on the Intel Itanium processor 9300 series.

Even if HP doesn’t feel the effect of these defections, the HP’s IVM product family (and Superdome) probably will.

Microsoft Joins Red Hat in Dropping Itanium Support

Red Hat announced at the end of 2009 that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 will not support Itanium, and now Microsoft has announced that Windows Server 2008 R2 will be the last version to support Itanium.

This is not good. HP is the largest vendor of Itanium systems – they should be, since Itanium was an HP-Intel joint venture. Intel just introduced the new Tukwila chip in January, and now Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux will not be found on the chip.

Most pertinently for HP, this means that Integrity Virtual Machines running Microsoft Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux will neither be available nor supported.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) is still available for Itanium, as is HP-UX, and OpenVMS is due soon. Time will tell if this bailout by Red Hat and Microsoft will affect HP’s bottom line; Intel should be relatively unscathed.

UPDATE: Fixed factual error.

Mainframe Linux: Pros and Cons

Why would one want to move Linux to the mainframe (such as IBM’s z10)? There are many reasons – and many reasons not to. Computerworld Australia had a good article describing (in part) some of the reasons the insurance company Allianz did just that. IBM has been pushing Linux on the z series for some time, and Red Hat and SUSE offer Linux variants for that purpose.

One common reason to move to a mainframe is that Linux servers have proliferated in the data center, taking up valuable space and becoming quite numerous. When all you need for a server is the hardware and a low-cost or no-cost Linux, then servers start popping up all over the place.

A single mainframe such as the z10 can handle thousands of servers (a test done in 2000 put 41,400 Linux servers on one IBM mainframe). The replaced servers can then be eliminated from the data center, freeing up valuable space and reducing the workload of current system administrators.

A common instance is where the company already has a mainframe in-house, running COBOL applications. Thus, the purchase cost of a mainframe (in the millions of dollars) has already been absorbed. Such a scenario also makes the case for a new mainframe much more appealing, as it puts the enhanced power to work immediately.

Replacing thousands of Intel-based Linux servers with a single mainframe will reduce cooling costs, power costs, physical space requirements, and hardware costs.

So why would anyone not want to use a mainframe?

If there is not already a mainframe in the data center, purchasing a mainframe just for the purpose of consolidation can be too much – mainframes typically cost in the millions of dollars, and require specially trained staff to maintain. Adding a mainframe to the data center would also require training current staff or adding new staff. A new mainframe also requires a new support contract. All of this adds up to not just millions of dollars of additional cost up front, but additional costs every year.

Another consideration is the number of Linux servers in the data center that would be moved. If there are dozens – or a hundred or two – it may not be entirely cost-effective to focus a lot of energy on moving these servers to the mainframe.

A supercomputer such as HP’s Superdome (with its attendant iCap and Integrity Virtual Machine capabilities) would probably be a better choice to consolidate dozens of Linux servers. The costs are lower, and the power requirements are lower – and you can purchase as much or as little as you need and grow with iCap. Most companies also already have UNIX staff on hand, and adapting to HP-UX is not generally a problem if needed.

Another benefit is that a server such as the Superdome offers virtualization of not just Linux systems, but Microsoft Windows and HP-UX as well – and soon, OpenVMS as well.

Using a large Intel-based server can virtualize a large number of servers with software from companies like VMWare and Sun.

These options won’t necessarily allow you to virtualize thousands of servers – but then, do you need to?

Expanding Integrity Virtual Machine Disk Volumes (HP-UX)

When an Integrity Virtual Machine (or IVM) is set up, the disks that the IVM will have internally can be backed with any number of things: a DVD device, an ISO file, a regular file, a physical disk, or a logical volume. Using a logical volume can be the most flexible option.

However, when expanding a disk volume for the Integrity Virtual Machine, the obvious solution is the wrong one. The logical volume on the VM host can be expanded – this, however, will all be in vain: there is no way to adjust the size of the disk inside the VM. Once pvcreate is done and the device is present, the volume cannot be expanded.

So even though the logical volume backing the VM disk has been expanded, there is no way to make the VM utilize the “new” space (which it can’t see).

It may be possible to do a pvremove on the disk, then remove the disk from the VM (using hpvmmodify) and add it back in as a new disk. It might also be wise to zero out the disk (being careful!) so no LVM structures remain in the VM disk. In this case, that would mean using a command like this:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/vgvdisk/lvol1 bs=1024 count=50

This will lay down zeros onto the disk. Be very careful about which disk you are doing this to! Once this command is done, there will be no usable data on that disk – so if you choose the wrong one you could mess your system up completely.

The recommended way of increasing storage in an IVM is to create a new disk for the virtual machine, then add it to the VM (using hpvmmodify with a -a option). Once this new disk is presented to the guest HP-UX environment, add the new disk to the old volume group using vgextend, extend the logical volume with lvextend and extend the filesystem with fsadm.

No down time and no problems!

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