IBM has launched new virtualisation software and server partitioning technology that will allow as many as ten versions of an operating system on a single processor.

Operating system enhancements - job scheduling and workload management capabilities, for example - along with software from its WebSphere, Tivoli and DB2 products will be pulled in together under the title Virtualization Engine.

The technology has been available to IBM's mainframe users for years, but Virtualization Engine is the result of a three-year effort to port them to other IBM systems including storage devices, according to Tom Hawk, the general manager of IBM's enterprise storage group.

It will increase system use and make it easier to manage, he said. "What we're really talking about is what I'll call mainframe-level manageability, discipline, and tools." Virtualization Engine will be worked into IBM systems, starting with the iSeries line, which is expected to be refreshed within the next two months.

IBM plans to use technology it has developed internally to partition Power5 processors, used in its iSeries and pSeries servers. The company will use an unnamed third party to do the same for its Intel-based xSeries systems.

IBM's iSeries minicomputer line, formerly the AS/400, already has a number of useful virtualisation capabilities built in, according to Nigel Fortlage, VP of GH Young International, an international trade consulting firm.

Last year, GH Young consolidated 16 Intel servers onto two iSeries machines running Linux, Windows 2000, and the OS/400 operating system that ships with iSeries servers. This saved the company $74,000 (£41,400) in hardware acquisition and maintenance costs, according to Fortlage.

"Prior to doing all of this virtualisation, we were spending 95 percent of our time managing," said Fortlage. "The iSeries manages so much of the low-level stuff that used to cause the glitches," he said, "I don't have to do the three-finger salute every couple of days; they just run," he said, referring to the Ctrl-Alt-Delete reboot combination.

The Virtualization Engine components new to iSeries will include an embedded version of Tivoli's Provisioning Manager software, as well as a WebSphere-based grid computing toolkit that will allow customers to run distributed applications using the OGSA (Open Grid Services Architecture) standards.

The partitioning component of Virtualization Engine is similar to VMware's GSX Server and ESX Server software and HP's Virtual Partitions (vPars), said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata. "VMware does not allow individual applications to use more than two CPUs worth of performance. Power partitions scale far higher than VMware can do."

IBM, like its other system vendor competitors HP and Sun, has done "pretty good" work with its virtualisation technology so far, Eunice said: "The battle, however, is not just to do pretty good, but to do exceptional virtualisation, to make it systematic, and to push its use throughout all the data center and IT processes," he added. "No vendor and no user is there... yet."