RFP: OS Virtualization

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-03-20

RFP: OS Virtualization

In an effort to trim costs, streamline hardware inventory and boost server utilization, companies are looking to consolidate applications onto fewer machines. Operating system virtualization products—including the full-machine solutions from VMware and application-compartmentalization features of Sun Microsystems Solaris 10—offer a solid path to server consolidation and the reduced management, power and space costs that consolidation enables.

Whats more, these and other virtualization products and technologies can considerably smooth the development, testing and deployment of enterprise applications because moving an application and its entire associated stack from the lab to the data center can be as simple as moving an operating system image file from one virtualization host to another. For the same reasons, virtualization can aid in enterprise backup and failover schemes.

Procuring the best virtualization solution for your organization involves learning everything possible about the capabilities and requirements of the products under consideration, as well as learning about the products management functionality, support options and costs. eWEEK Labs has prepared this list of questions to help IT managers develop their own requests for proposal for OS virtualization products.

For more sample RFPs, go to go.eWEEK.com/rfp.


Getting the most out of hardware investments is what virtualization is all about, so its important to ensure that a virtualization product will match up well with an organizations server hardware. Virtualization options that are built in to an operating system, such as FreeBSDs jails, tend to offer broader hardware options than x86-specific full-machine virtualization products, such as Microsofts Virtual Server 2005 R2. In addition, certain product features may depend on specific processor versions. For example, VMwares 64-bit guest support isnt available with early versions of Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips and requires the very latest x86-64 chips from Intel.

* Describe the minimum hardware requirements for running your product in a configuration that includes at least two virtualized instances. (State RAM, CPU storage and I/O requirements.)

* Describe the maximum supported hardware configuration.

* Describe the resource requirements of the host system beyond whats required for running guest instances.

* Which processor architectures does the product support? (Check all that apply.)

• x86 • PowerPC

• x86-64 • Other

• Itanium

* Provide a link to an HCL (hardware compatibility list) for your product.

* If your product presents a virtualized hardware environment to guest instances, describe this environment, including processor, I/O and network devices.

* Can the product present multiple physical processors to guest instances? Describe the storage protocols available for guest instances.


Whether virtualization options integrate with a host servers operating system or are layered on top of it, operating system compatibility is an important early checkoff. If the product under consideration supports Linux, for example, which distributions does it support? Its also important to ascertain whether and how well the product supports the guest operating systems and applications an organization wishes to virtualize, as well as to determine if any changes will need to be made to the application before it is deployed.

* If your product requires a host operating system, which host operating systems does the product support?

* Which guest operating systems does the product host? (Check all that apply, and specify versions supported.)

• Microsoft Windows Server • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server

• Red Hat Enterprise Server • Debian GNU/Linux

• Fedora Core Linux • FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD

• Sun Microsystems Solaris • NetWare

* Do guest instances run under their own kernel, or do they share the hosts kernel?

* Do you offer explicit support for particular applications running within guest instances? Which applications?

* Describe the sorts of applications that are not appropriate for hosting within the products virtualized instance.

Next Page: Management, support and cost-benefit analysis.



While virtualization products can reduce the number of physical servers in an organizations care, virtual servers still require individual attention. The quality of the tools for creating, manipulating and monitoring virtualized instances will determine how heavily these guests weigh on IT staff. The best management tools do a good job of exposing the particular benefits of virtual servers, such as freezing guests into snapshots, moving guests among host servers and smoothly migrating physical systems into virtual ones.

* What facilities does your product offer for deployment?

* Can the guests boot via PXE (Preboot Execution Environment)?

* Can the guest file systems be accessed/manipulated from the host?

* Does your product offer a P2V (physical to virtual) facility? If so, describe the process of migrating a server instance from physical hardware to guest instance. Does your product support migration of running instances from one host to another? Describe how this works.

* What facilities does the product offer for monitoring the state of the virtual instances it hosts?

* Describe the facilities your product offers for scripted operation.

* Does the product offer utilities for managing resource allocation among virtual instances? Describe these utilities.

* How are updates, such as bug and security fixes, provided to the host software? What kind of downtime do these updates introduce? Does the product offer any facilities for managing updates on guest systems?

* What facilities does your product offer for creating snapshots of virtual instances?

* Describe the management interface options available for this product.


In exchange for the slimmer hardware profile virtualization products can help companies achieve, these systems add layers of complexity and potential conflict. Its important to know that ones vendor offers resources for sorting out these kinks.

* What does basic service include?

* What does premium service include, and how much does it cost?

* Are there approved systems integrators that can help companies customize deployment of the product for their own needs?

* What level or kinds of skills will administrators need to deploy and maintain this product? What sort of system administration background will they require?

* Do any community resources exist for the product or technology? Provide links to any such resources.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

* What are the cost advantages our organization will achieve by deploying your virtualization solution?

* What does your product cost? Include base costs and costs for optional features, if your product is priced that way.

* What are the maintenance fees?

* What is the impact of adding CPUs?

* Do multicore chips count toward higher per-CPU licensing?

Determining costs for a virtualization solution—both upfront costs and maintenance and support fees—is an important part of any organizations evaluation process. Also vital is determining licensing costs for the operating systems and applications that will be run within guest instances, an exercise that will require input from the vendors of those software products. However, virtualization product suppliers should be able to offer advice on these issues and/or point organizations in the right direction.

Next Page: eWEEK Labs virtualization resources.



* List references from customers that have completed a similar deployment (preferably, customers of a similar size and from the same industry as ours).

Labs Virtualization Resources

* Rise of the Virtual Machines What OS virtualization can—and cant—do for you.

* Xen Pushes Paravirtualization The open-source Xen project is taking a paravirtualization tack: Entire operating systems may run atop Xen, but their kernels must be modified to do so.

* Virtual Server 2005 R2 Is Solid Solution for Windows Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 Release 2 carries out its virtualization chores about as well as competing products from VMware. However, Microsofts server virtualization solution still lags in certain key areas— most notably, support for host and guest operating systems.

* VMware Workstation 5.5 Excels in Labs Tests VMware Workstation 5.5 is an excellent tool for creating and running virtual machines, with the best administration and setup tools of any virtualization product weve tested.

* Whats Next? Virtual Chips Chip makers are poised to heat up virtualization space.

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