Hosting providers bypass VMware, Xen for Virtual Iron

Support for virtual LANs (VLANs) in the newly announced Virtual Iron 3.6 has made it possible for two hosting providers to go with the upstart virtualization platform.

With today's addition of virtual LAN (VLAN) support in version 3.6 of Lowell, Mass.-based Virtual Iron Software Inc.'s namesake virtualization platform, two separate hosting providers revealed they have chosen Virtual Iron as their virtualization provider, beating out competing products from VMware, XenSource, and Red Hat.

Meganet Communications, a managed hosting provider in Fall River, Mass. purchased 16 processors worth of Virtual Iron software, and is using it to consolidate internal applications as well as customers' managed servers.

"From a feature set perspective, they have every thing we need," said Paul Joncus, chief operating officer, including live migration and HA failover comparable to VMware VMotion and HA. Meganet uses Dell servers connected via QLogic Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) and switches connected to a Network Appliance storage area network (SAN).

Meganet also considered VMware virtualization software, but as a small company, felt they were getting more personalized attention from Virtual Iron. "If something goes wrong, you need to make sure that you're going to get the proper support," Joncus said. "VMware, they're a big company now, and they're going after the big kill, not so much midsize companies."

Virtual Iron's price tag was not as much of an issue for Meganet, Joncus said. Even though Virtual Iron costs about one-fifth of VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 Enterprise Edition's ($499 per processor vs. $5,750 dual-processor VI3 license), Joncus downplayed the savings. "It's a one time-cost," he said, and ultimately, any server consolidation project "will pay for itself in about a year" with power and real-estate savings.

At XCalibre Communications, another managed hosting provider in the U.K., Virtual Iron is being used as the foundation for a European competitor to Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) web service.

XCalibre decided to go with Virtual Iron after also evaluating Red Hat Virtualization, XenSource and Cassatt. Cassatt was quickly ruled out as it does not provide a hypervisor per se, and XenSource's XenEnterprise 3.1, "frankly, was not stable enough, and had some functionality missing," said Philipp Huber, chief operating officer at the firm.

Red Hat's virtualization, meanwhile, was interesting to Huber for its memory ballooning capabilities, since memory contention "is where we really make our money," Huber said. This Xen feature would have allowed XCalibre to assign memory to a virtual machine, but have the kernel reassign it to a global memory pool when it wasn't needed. That, in turn, would have allowed XCalibre to provision more VMs per physical server than it currently can, for better margins.

VLANs non-negotiable
Ultimately though, Virtual Iron, "wasn't in beta, and it was amazingly stable," Huber said. Virtual Iron also supported iSCSI storage, and was receptive to XCalibre's request for VLAN support.

VLANs, a method of creating independent logical networks within a physical network, are critical to hosting providers, because "clients in the dedicated market are very, very concerned about security," Huber said. "They want their environment to be as close as possible to a physical dedicated server." Virtualization takes care of operating system isolation, while a VLAN insulates a system from traffic on the remainder of the network.

Meganet's Joncus concurred on the VLAN point. "We VLAN everything. If a customer is having an issue, we want to isolate it from the other customers. It's the next level of security."

The addition of VLAN support also translates to hardware savings, said Chris Barclay, director of product management at Virtual Iron. Prior to version 3.6, "for every subnet, you needed a unique physical NIC (network interface card) connected to a switch," he explained. Now, "multiple subnets can travel over one or more NICs; you no longer have a one-to-one ratio between subnets and NICs."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director

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