Saturday, March 1, 2008

Introduction to VIO

Prior to the introduction of POWER5 systems, it was only possible to create as many separate logical partitions (LPARs) on an IBM system as there were physical processors. Given that the largest IBM eServer pSeries POWER4 server, the p690, had 32 processors, 32 partitions were the most anyone could create. A customer could order a system with enough physical disks and network adapter cards to so that each LPAR would have enough disks to contain operating systems and enough network cards to allow users to communicate with each partition.
The Advanced POWER Virtualization™ feature of POWER5 platforms1 makes it possible to allocate fractions of a physical CPU to a POWER5 LPAR. Using virtual CPU's and virtual I/O a user can create many more LPARs on a p5 system than there are CPU's or I/O slots. The Advanced POWER Virtualization feature accounts for this by allowing users to create shared network adapters and virtual SCSI disks. Customers can use these virtual resources to provide disk space and network adapters for each LPAR they create on their POWER5 system
(see Figure ).

There are three components of the Advanced POWER Virtualization feature: Micro-Partitioning™, shared Ethernet adapters, and virtual SCSI. In addition, AIX 5L Version
5.3 allows users to define virtual Ethernet adapters permitting inter-LPAR communication. This paper provides an overview of how each of these components works and then shows the details of how to set up a simple three-partition system where one partition is a Virtual I/O Server and the other two partitions use virtual Ethernet and virtual SCSI to differing degrees. What follows is a practical guide to help a new POWER5 customer set up simple systems where high availability is not a concern, but becoming familiar with this new technology in a development environment is the primary goal.

An element of the IBM POWER Virtualization feature called Micro-Partitioning can divide a single processor into many different processors. In POWER4 systems, each physical processor is dedicated to an LPAR. This concept of dedicated processors is still present in POWER5 systems, but so is the concept of shared processors. A POWER5 system administrator can use the Hardware Management Console (HMC) to place processors in
a shared processor pool. Using the HMC, the administrator can assign fractions of a CPU to individual partitions. If one LPAR is defined to use processors in the shared processor pool, when those CPUs are idle, the POWER Hypervisor™ makes them available to other partitions. This ensures that these processing resources are not wasted. Also, the ability to assign fractions of a CPU to a partition means it is possible to partition POWER5 servers into many different partitions. Allocation of physical processor and memory resources on POWER5 systems is managed by a system firmware component called the POWER Hypervisor.

Virtual Networking
Virtual networking on POWER5 hardware consists of two main capabilities. One capability is provided by a software IEEE 802.1q (VLAN) switch that is implemented in the Hypervisor on POWER5 hardware. Users can use the HMC to add Virtual Ethernet adapters to their partition definitions. Once these are added and the partitions booted, the new adapters can be configured just like real physical adapters, and the partitions can communicate with each other without having to connect cables between the LPARs. Users can separate traffic from different VLANs by assigning different VLAN IDs to each virtual Ethernet adapter. Each AIX 5.3 partition can support up to 256 Virtual Ethernet adapters

In addition, a part of the Advanced POWER virtualization virtual networking feature allows users to share physical adapters between logical partitions. These shared adapters, called Shared Ethernet Adapters (SEAs), are managed by a Virtual I/O Server partition which maps physical adapters under its control to virtual adapters. It is possible to map many physical Ethernet adapters to a single virtual Ethernet adapter thereby eliminating a single physical adapter as a point of failure in the architecture.
There are a few things users of virtual networking need to consider before implementing it. First, virtual networking ultimately uses more CPU cycles on the POWER5 machine than when physical adapters are assigned to a partition. Users should consider assigning a physical adapter directly to a partition when heavy network traffic is predicted over a certain adapter. Secondly, users may want to take advantage of larger MTU sizes that virtual Ethernet allows if they know that their applications will benefit from the reduced fragmentation and better performance that larger MTU sizes offer. The MTU size limit for SEA is smaller than Virtual Ethernet adapters, so users will have to carefully choose an MTU size so that packets are sent to external networks with minimum fragmentation.

Virtual SCSI
The Advanced POWER Virtualization feature called virtual SCSI allows access to physical disk devices which are assigned to the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS). The system administrator uses VIOS logical volume manager commands to assign disks to volume groups. The administrator creates logical volumes in the Virtual I/O Server volume groups. Either these logical volumes or the physical disks themselves may ultimately appear as physical disks (hdisks) to the Virtual I/O Server’s client partitions once they are associated with virtual SCSI host adapters. While the Virtual I/O Server software is
packaged as an additional software bundle that a user purchases separately from the AIX 53 distribution, the virtual I/O client software is a part of the AIX 5.3 base installation media so an administrator does not need to install any additional filesets on a Virtual SCSI client partition. Srikrishnan provides more details on how the Virtual SCSI feature works


John C said...

Interesting but what I am after is slightly different. I have a JS21 blade running AIX 5.3 which only runs with one partition but that partition needs to talk to 4 different VLANs.
How can virutal ethernet adapters be set up for this purpose?

Santosh Gupta said...

Hi John,

We can have virtual ethernet adapters to communicate within LPAR through Hypervisor. As per your configuration you have single partition, Virtual ethernet adapters will not help. You will need to have VIO server setup to acheive same.