New Virtual Servers Ease Management

Sun Microsystems Inc. and VMware Inc. are each developing virtual server solutions designed to help enterprise customers add efficiencies for back-office operations and Web services.

Sun Microsystems Inc. and VMware Inc. are each developing virtual server solutions designed to help enterprise customers add efficiencies for back-office operations and Web services.

Sun plans to add new "service container" technology to the virtualization features of Solaris 9, Beta 2, which is expected in the first quarter. Final code is expected in the second quarter.

Suns service container is a partition of the Solaris operating system that can be carved into pieces. Each piece can run individual applications, said Andy Ingram, a vice president for Solaris at Sun, in Palo Alto, Calif.

The technology pools available computing resources and allows virtual servers to be carved out on the fly that are endowed with resource, security and/or fault containment, which will allow the user to track the resources assigned to and used by an application, Ingram said.

News of Suns work follows IBMs announcement in early December that VMwares enterprise server software solution, ESX Server, has been optimized to run on Intel Corp.-based eServer xSeries systems from IBM, including the x350 and the x370.

Virtual computing will enable customers to better manage the cost and complexity of e-business, said Diane Greene, CEO at VMware, also in Palo Alto. VMwares software allows businesses to dynamically partition physical servers into multiple virtual computers. Each computer is configured with its own operating system, applications and network ID, Greene said.

The difference between the VMware and Sun offerings is that VMware involves deploying multiple copies of the operating system, while Suns containers run within a single instance of Solaris, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc., in Port Chester, N.Y.

"While VMwares solution incurs the overhead of managing multiple different operating systems, it gains the advantage that each instance is shielded from the others, so that a catastrophic failure in one application cannot affect the others," Iams said.

Even though Sun offers similar capabilities via its Dynamic Domains in midrange and high-end SPARC servers, Iams said, VMware has the advantage that users can run Windows and Linux partitions simultaneously, whereas Sun supports only Solaris in its Dynamic Domains.

Enterprise users are enthusiastic about these advances. Agilera Inc., an ASP (application service provider) in Englewood, Colo., is using VMware on its xSeries servers for consolidating its customer domain controllers on fewer physical servers.

"We needed an option that allowed us to offload the whole load of domain controllers, DNS [Domain Name System], that kind of thing, to other systems," said Neil Reamer, a systems engineer at Agilera. "With the VMware solution, we no longer have to buy two servers for each client. We have bought two servers for all clients and bring them up on those."

Brent Adam, the systems team leader at Agilera, pointed out that many customers are not fully comfortable with the notion of virtual computing, however. "Were starting out with the domain controllers because we dont have to ask their [customers] permission," Adam said. "If we decide to go to the next step and start consolidating application servers, there will be more client roads to cross."

Suns Ingram said prospective users are intrigued by service containers as they go beyond the current dynamic system domains offering. Solaris 9 will also include a new Resource Manager, which provides resource containment and allows resources to be shared, physical resource allocation and greater control over physical memory, he said.

D.H. Browns Iams said the service containers will be a valuable tool for enterprise customers looking to implement server consolidation. It will also be an important deployment tool for ASPs in managing different levels of services, as well as for testing and development.

"This is yet one more step in Unix systems being able to provide the same level of value of mainframe systems," Iams said. "There are, of course, a lot more steps to go, but this is one of the big ones."