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The KVM Hypervisor Extends Familiar Tools to Linux on the Mainframe

Open standards are increasingly important as the open-source ecosystem grows and more organizations employ them for analytics, cloud and other critical workloads running on Linux*. Long a champion of Linux, IBM is deepening its support for the system on the mainframe by providing a missing link for z Systems* users.

That link is a Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM), an open-standards-based hypervisor designed to take advantage of the z Systems platform. Clients employing KVM get the best of the ecosystem and z Systems, according to Jeffrey Frey, IBM Fellow and CTO, z Systems.

IBM’s KVM strategy embraces, aligns and integrates standardization around virtualization and virtualization management. IBM’s goal is “to make the operational control of virtualization on the mainframe pluggable and familiar to people who are using a more open, standards-based approach for virtualization and cloud,” Frey says.

Tailored for z Systems

The Linux OS, guest and software running on z Systems is standard, Frey says, noting that “Linux is Linux is Linux.” However, many organizations in the past looked at Linux on z Systems but decided that dealing with the underlying virtualization mechanisms and the hardware itself necessitated learning z Systems skills, something these organizations were reluctant to do.

What these organizations desired was a z Systems environment that would be standards-based, look familiar to them and integrate better with their x86 environment. They wanted to automate the operational control of a virtual server and to plug it into a single control point with standard-based tooling. In addition, customers began to manage their data center with tools like OpenStack and techniques like the software-defined environment and data center. That’s where KVM becomes important. KVM gives the customer the tools to manage the virtual environment and the capability to introduce high degrees of automation as well as dynamic provisioning, monitoring and managing of the system. “That’s a primary driver behind what we are doing with KVM,” Frey notes. “It’s making sure we have a best-of-breed KVM differentiated virtualization on the platform and plugging it into standard tooling. That’s what’s been missing in the z Systems strategy.”

Embracing Standardization

In response to customer demand, IBM chose to embrace standardization rather than move forward with a proprietary solution. Companies with Linux skills will be familiar with the standard virtualization management tooling for Linux. They can slide z Systems into their environments easily and integrate it without any special skills or a different process. For those who are new to the platform, KVM provides a standardized hypervisor that will integrate well with existing distributed systems environments.

Because IBM is removing the barriers to adoption of z Systems servers, customers will be able to have a real discussion about the value proposition for running Linux on z Systems, including economy of scale and the inherent values of the mainframe: reliability, security, performance, integrity and resilience. “Linux is foundational for analytics and cloud,” notes Frey. “We want to do everything we can to have a differentiator for Linux on z Systems, but we also want to focus on standardization and remove obstacles that keep customers from choosing Linux on z Systems.”

KVM is available through and supported by IBM. It’s not a matter of simply porting an x86 hypervisor to z Systems. “KVM is being optimized specifically for z Systems to exploit 40 years of virtualization innovation on the system. It will make use of the same hardware features that z/VM* uses,” he explains. “KVM is expected to perform better than the x86 alternatives, be more resilient and have the z Systems qualities of service that people expect.”

Continuing Support

IBM is releasing KVM for IBM z13* and IBM zEnterprise* EC12 systems as well as any future mainframe versions. The company plans to deliver a new release every six months to keep pace with advances in the Linux community and OpenStack. IBM’s intent is to foster an ecosystem with KVM on z Systems and keep the platform viable as that ecosystem grows.

“KVM is being optimized specifically for z Systems to exploit 40 years of virtualization innovation on the system.”
—Jeffrey Frey, IBM Fellow and CTO, z Systems

KVM is a new member of the IBM family and won’t replace z/VM, which serves an important but distinct set of clients, Frey says. z/VM continues to be targeted to those who want additional differentiation, optimization and leverage of the z Systems hardware, especially existing clients who are well invested in z Systems and Linux on the platform. IBM will continue to invest in z/VM and will do more to enable it for OpenStack as well, he adds.

KVM is designed for people who are interested in industry standardization and want to integrate the management of their VMs, including z Systems, into a heterogeneous environment. KVM helps to enable a single point of control for their entire IT environment.

KVM is the most recent addition to IBM’s open-standard offerings and will help customers, the ecosystem and IBM grow. Because Linux is so important for today’s workloads, running it on z Systems gives customers all of the advantages of the platform. Both existing and new customers reap the benefits of open standards and the mainframe thanks to KVM, Linux and z Systems.

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at



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