Need a New HMC? Here’s Why a “Virtual” HMC May Be a Very Good Choice

Many (the majority) of our customers have an HMC (Hardware Management Console) appliance to manage their IBM Power systems, whether it be to manage multiple partitions (LPARs) or even to manage a single partition machine, HMCs are critical to the IBM i technology ecosystem.

HMC technology has very much evolved through the years, running on different processors and on a code base that has undergone constant change as IBM Power hardware and virtualization technologies have become more and more advanced, and HMC technology needed to keep pace to support those advancements.

It wasn’t too long ago that an order from IBM for a new HMC meant getting an IBM xSeries (Intel processor based) server “appliance” where the HMC software was pre-loaded at the factory and it simply needed to be racked & cabled-up on installation and configured for use.  Times have changed a bit, and getting a new HMC now gets you an IBM Power-based server appliance not an Intel-based one, and, you now have the ability to go “virtual”, and the virtualized option is what we’ll be exploring a bit in this article.

First, a very quick general summary of what an HMC is, it is a Linux-based appliance that physically connects to the service processor (a.k.a. “FSP”, “server firmware”) of your IBM Power system and allows you to manage that physical system & its logical partitions, and provide console access to all partitions running on that system.  The chart below from IBM’s documentation shows an example HMC managing AIX, IBM i, and Linux partitions running on an IBM Power system:

The HMC is a classic “one-trick pony” as it basically is a closed/locked-down appliance that has only one but very important role, to manage one or multiple IBM Power systems and the virtualization/configuration environments of all partitions running on those systems from a single pane of glass.

For many years, getting an HMC meant getting a dedicated physical box from IBM that ran the Linux operating system and the HMC software, but with widespread adoption of Intel-based virtualization technologies (like VMware) in just about every organization that has an IBM Power system, you now have a great alternative to installing/implementing the appliance, the Virtual HMC.

You can purchase the IBM Virtual HMC software to run on multiple supported virtual machine hypervisors, and currently, the supported x86 hypervisors (for IBM product code 5765-HMW) are KVM 2.5.0 on Ubuntu 16.04/Red Hat Enterprise 7, Xen on SUSE Linux Enterprise 12/Ubuntu 16.04, or VMware on ESXi 6.0 or later.  It is also possible to run your Virtual HMC (IBM product code 5765-HMB) on an IBM Power system LPAR using PowerVM, but the LPAR hosting the Virtual HMC cannot be on the same physical Power system that the HMC will be managing.

The most wildly popular x86 hypervisor technology currently in use in the majority of our customers’ environments is VMware ESXi, so the remainder of this article will discuss implementing a Virtual HMC on a VMware ESXi virtual machine.

When you order IBM product 5765-HMW from your IBM business partner, it includes the HMC Virtual Appliance software for x86 based systems and the HMC version you get is 9.2.950 which is the same as getting a physical HMC with the same version 9.2.950 pre-installed at the factory.  To obtain the software after your order is fulfilled, you can signon to IBM’s ESS (Entitled Software Support) site and download the Tar archive file that has been provided to you on the site.  From the downloaded Tar file you can then extract a standard VMware OVA file that will contain an OVF template image that you can deploy immediately to the VMware virtual machine.  You then simply power on the virtual machine and you are at the same point that you would be at if you were doing the first power on of a physical HMC as shipped from IBM, you then go through the normal HMC installation wizard from that point forward just as you would with a physical HMC appliance to get it all configured.  The resource requirements for installing a Virtual HMC on a VMware virtual machine are very reasonable, 16GB of main memory, 4 vCPU’s, 2 virtual Ethernet connections, and 500GB of disk space.

The key to getting your new Virtual HMC to work correctly lies in the networking setup.  Just as with a physical HMC appliance, there are 2 Ethernet connections required for a virtual HMC, one connection which will be the direct connection from the HMC to the physical FSP (HMC port) of the Power system(s) that you want the Virtual HMC to manage, and the other connection which will be the connection to your network that you will use in normal day-to-day operations to reach the GUI of the Virtual HMC to manage your system.  What we have found to be the best practice approach from our own experience is to have a VLAN (virtual LAN) setup on your network to enable the communication between the Virtual HMC and the physical FSP (HMC port) of the Power system that the Virtual HMC will manage.

Installing a Virtual HMC running in a VMware ESXi environment requires a slight bit more installation effort than a traditional physical HMC mainly because of the x86 virtual machine that must be built to support the appliance, but once you have it running it’s bulletproof.  The Virtual HMC product is a mature technology and an excellent alternative to a physical HMC for many environments.  You can save on the hardware expense of a physical HMC server and instead leverage-up on the unused Intel resources that most shops have resident in their existing VMware ESXi virtualization environments, it’s also a great choice for customers who currently have a physical HMC in place with no redundancy and want to have a 2nd HMC available to maintain their environment should their physical HMC experience a failure.

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