With its recent acquisition of Innotek and reseller agreement with VMware, Sun Microsystems is moving forward to deliver its virtualization solutions to the market. Steve Wilson, vice president of xVM-Sun’s desktop and data center virtualization initiative-recently discussed with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli Sun’s broader virtualization strategy and vision. He also explained why he doesn’t believe Sun is playing catch-up with Red Hat, Novell and Microsoft on the virtualization front.
Isn’t Sun pretty late to the game with its virtualization strategy?
Not at all. The market is wide open, with numbers indicating that less than 10 percent of x86 servers are running hypervisors today, and virtualization is primed to go mainstream. Customers and partners are excited about Sun xVM, our open and interoperable management and virtualization platform.
Why did it take so long for Sun to talk about its strategy?
It may seem that Sun has been quiet on the virtualization front, but actually we have a long history in virtualization innovation, dating back to 1985 with the introduction of NFS [Network File System]. Truth be told, for the past several years, Sun has been delivering leading-edge virtualization solutions-such as Solaris Containers, the Logical Domains SPARC hypervisor and our Sun Ray desktop virtualization solutions-to customers around the world.
Are you concerned that the perception you are lagging may put you at a disadvantage to your competitors?
For the past two-plus years, we’ve been big supporters of the Xen open-source community, actively working with the Xen community code base to enable us to add some very unique capabilities into our products. During the fall, we also inked deals with Microsoft and Red Hat around virtualization interoperability that ensure customers see compatibility and are fully supported. With those two critical pieces-openness and interoperability-in place, we were ready to introduce Sun xVM to the market, which expands our product offerings to include x86 server virtualization for Windows and Linux.
What differentiates Sun’s strategy from that of your competitors, and why do you believe this will be effective?
Sun xVM is about providing customers with choice. It is built around three key differentiators: data-center-grade solutions, openness and interoperability.
The Sun xVM Server hypervisor and Sun xVM Ops Center management console draw on Sun’s many years of experience in operating at the core of the data center. With unique features such as Predictive Self-Healing, advanced I/O virtualization and ZFS, Sun xVM will enable users to trust more critical parts of their infrastructure to virtualized environments than they do today.
All of the products in the Sun xVM portfolio are completely open source. While some vendors are offering open-source hypervisors, most of the management solutions for virtualization are proprietary, which threatens to lock in customers. The Sun xVM Ops Center source code is licensed under the GNU General Public License Version 3. For this reason, partners are very interested in working with Sun’s virtualization offerings. Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Red Hat and IBM, among others, have already announced their support of Sun xVM.
Interoperability is another key value. During initial development, we decided that it was important that the Sun xVM Server hypervisor didn’t introduce yet another proprietary file format for virtual machines. We will run virtual machines built for VMware ESX or Microsoft Hyper-V without modification, making it easier for customers to use Sun xVM in their heterogeneous data centers, alongside existing virtualization technologies.
The Big Picture
Microsoft is embracing virtualization across its product line and is working hard on offering heterogeneous tools to manage everything. Novell, IBM and others all claim to be doing the same thing. How does your xVM Ops Center tool play into this competitive environment, and what distinguishes it?
Sun xVM Ops Center is a full data center automation tool built to handle physical and virtual environments. It works at very large scale and is designed to support thousands of individual servers-both physical and virtual. Sun xVM Ops Center automates time-consuming system administration activities, such as firmware updating, bare metal operating system provisioning, and patching and updating.
Sun xVM Ops Center is also completely open source, which is really attractive to our partner ecosystem. We’re getting a lot of interest from systems integrators and [VARs] who want to add their services on top of the platform.
Does Sun have a bigger-picture plan for cross-platform virtualization management?
You bet. Sun’s vision for the dynamic data center goes well beyond simple server consolidation. While xVM Ops Center’s initial focus will be to manage compute resources and virtualization, it will quickly expand to also manage storage and network resources.
Who do you consider your biggest competitors in the virtualization and virtualization management tools space, and why?
In terms of mind share, VMware certainly has the lead. We compete and partner with VMware-“coopetition” at its best. We’ve been working with VMware since 2005, ensuring that VMware products run well on our Sun servers and Sun storage. Part of that agreement made the Solaris operating system a premier guest on [VMware’s] virtualization platform.
While VMware has made virtualization top of mind, customers are very interested in Sun’s unique approach to virtualization. We’re leveraging Sun’s heritage in developing enterprise-grade solutions to deliver that same enterprise-class functionality, availability, security and scale in Sun xVM.
Additionally, our hypervisor and management tools are completely open. You may have heard [Sun Chairman and co-founder] Scott McNealy mention “lower barrier to entry” and “low barrier to exit.” Big enterprise customers are really interested in avoiding vendor lock-in with proprietary software these days.
You recently announced a reseller agreement with VMware. How does this partnership benefit Sun?
Sun is committed to customer choice and interoperability, whether that’s choice of operating system, choice of processors or choice of virtualization software. In the same way that we offer Solaris, Linux and Windows operating systems to our customers, Sun will also provide a range of virtualization offerings, including VMware’s products and our Sun xVM products. This partnership provides another option for our customers and helps to expand Sun’s solutions in the x64 space.
Microsoft has positioned its virtualization strategy as running all the way from the desktop to the data center, which resonates well with customers. Yours appears to be a lot less broad and inclusive. Is that the case, and how do you compete with the Microsoft vision?
We believe virtualization will transform the data center in many ways beyond just server virtualization. Storage is the next major resource that needs to be virtualized to build a truly dynamic data center, where resources can be rapidly redeployed to meet demand. Sun brings unique solutions in this area that combine software and hardware. The Sun Fire x4600 storage server is the first step for us.
We also believe that desktop virtualization is turning into an increasingly important trend. Sun has long been selling its Sun Ray thin-client virtualization solution, but more recently we’ve dramatically expanded our offerings around Windows desktop virtualization with Sun’s Secure Global Desktop technology and a full Virtual Desktop Infrastructure stack. Now we’re expanding Sun xVM to the developer desktop, with our announcement that we’ve agreed to acquire Innotek, the provider of the open-source virtualization software called VirtualBox.
Plans for the xVM Hypervisor
Novell and Red Hat have already baked the Xen hypervisor into their shipping products, while Microsoft will release Hyper-V later this year. Sun’s solution is the Sun xVM Server. What are your plans for that hypervisor–for example, what platform and hardware will support it?
Previews of the Sun xVM hypervisor are available for download today. Our first commercial release is slated for the second quarter of calendar year 2008, with support for x86 servers from IBM, Dell, HP and Sun. The second release will include an additional distribution targeted at Sun’s SPARC servers using CoolThreads technology, such as Niagara and Niagara 2.
In terms of operating systems, we will support Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux and Solaris as guests.
What differentiates xVM Server from the Xen hypervisor and Hyper-V, and how will this benefit customers?
Because Sun xVM Server uses the hypervisor code from the Xen community, we can take advantage of all the optimizations that partners like Intel and AMD make to the code base, as well as the advanced features available in the most recent code, such as live migration. We are also adding a number of advanced operating systems features from Solaris to the control domain, which Xen technology refers to as Dom0. These features-such as dynamic self-healing, advanced I/O virtualization and management, and ZFS-give Sun xVM Server a set of highly unique attributes.
How does the technology you acquired from Innotek fit into Sun’s virtualization strategy, and how do you plan to integrate VirtualBox into your current offerings?
VirtualBox is software designed to allow users to run multiple operating systems on top of whatever operating system they currently have installed. Whether they choose Windows, Mac OS X, Linux or Solaris as their default desktop of choice, VirtualBox will ride on top of it and allow them to host any arbitrary collection of operating system instances.
Software developers everywhere are starting to discover this way of operating, and these desktop virtualization solutions are quickly becoming part of the common developer tool kit. VirtualBox will act as the broadly available gateway to the rest of the xVM platform. Developers that build applications have a huge amount of influence on how [the apps are] deployed. We believe that developers using VirtualBox can help guide their friends in the data center toward xVM Server as the preferred deployment engine.
How are you targeting your virtualization message to those businesses and enterprises that already have Windows and Linux in their server environments, and what is the value proposition you are trying to sell them on?
To put it succinctly, choice. Windows and Linux customers can now run their Windows and Linux environments using a totally open-source virtualization solution that will deliver improvements in availability, security and scalability. Sun’s new and expanding partnerships with companies like Microsoft, Red Hat, AMD and Intel should help give Windows and Linux customers confidence that Sun is ready to help them in this space.
In particular, our bilateral support agreements for virtualization with Microsoft and Red Hat will ensure customers are completely supported in Windows and Linux environments when running inside Sun xVM.