New year, new Linux virtualization options

Open sourcers have ported OpenVZ to run on power-savvy Sun UltraSPARC T1 chips, while Linus Torvalds chose the obscure KVM over Xen for a forthcoming Linux kernel.

OpenVZ, the open source virtualization software akin to SWsoft's Virtuozzo, now runs on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s eco-friendly UltraSPARC T1 chip, in addition to x86, IA-64 and Power 64 processors.

Sun servers like the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 are based on the UltraSPARC T1 and "are perfect for large server environments," said Jonathan Kinney, data systems specialist for Advantagecom Networks Inc., a hosting provider in Walla Walla, Wash.

"[Sun's] most recent server architecture uses a lot less electricity," and therefore generates less heat, Kinney said. Plus, "it has an eight-core CPU, so it can do a lot more work."

Despite his appreciation for Sun hardware, Kinney, who instigated the SPARC port by posting on the OpenVZ forums, said Sun's Solaris operating system wasn't an option for Advantagecom because they are a Linux shop. Solaris, Kinney said, "has dependability issues hindering it from being our choice."

Kinney procured an eight-processor Sun Fire with an UltraSPARC T1 through Sun's 90-day try-and-buy program, during which time it was used to port OpenVZ to the chipset. Advantagecom has since returned the box to Sun, although Kinney did say that the company does have plans "to move some production based on that hardware."

Advantagecom, like many Internet service providers, uses a mixture of OpenVZ and Virtuozzo virtualization software to create virtual private servers based on a single operating system image. This approach to virtualization, compared with bare-metal hypervisor architectures such as VMware's ESX and the open source Xen, is said to be quite scalable, although it limits guests to a single operating system and patch level.

Make way for KVM

Meanwhile, over at the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL), Linux gatekeeper Linus Torvalds committed KVM, short for kernel-based virtual machine to the Linux 2.6 tree last month.

A relative newcomer to the Linux virtualization scene, KVM employs a hosted virtualization model similar to VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual Server. As such, it loads onto an existing Linux distribution and can run different unmodified Linux and Windows operating systems as guests. It requires virtualization-enhanced Intel-VT or AMD-V processors. According to a KVM review at linux.inet.hr, it is easy to set up, it's stable and provides decent performance.

But, while the open source community seems more than happy to improve upon existing virtualization platforms, industry analysts doubt the commercial viability of these efforts. When it comes to virtualization, "indeed, the challenge is making money on top of an increasingly commoditizing foundation," wrote Gordon Haff, principal IT adviser with Illuminata Inc. in an email. Instead, most virtualization startups are "selling services including management on top of that base layer," he said. And even there, "the opportunity is probably rather limited -- given that VMware, for example, is aggressively moving up into virtualization services as well."

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