Sun slots Xen into server virtualization portfolio

Sun's Xen-based xVM hypervisor is just around the corner, as is xVM Ops Center framework for managing virtual as well as physical resources.

The fact that Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. has been working on porting Xen to Solaris is no secret, but we now have more detail on its forthcoming xVM hypervisor, including a time frame for availability.

For more on hypervisors:
VMware pros predict rocky transition to embedded ESX 3i

VMware kicks off VMworld with embedded ESX Server 3i

Taking the hype out of hypervisors

Without actually announcing the product -- look for a formal announcement in the next month or so -- Sun executives held a series of "Chalk Talks" for press and analysts at its Menlo Park, Calif.; Burlington, Mass.; and London campuses today to talk about its xVM virtualization.

The family includes xVM Server, which for x86 chips comprises the Xen hypervisor running on Solaris, said Steve Wilson, Sun's vice president for Connected Systems Network. "We've implemented dom0 on Solaris," he said.

One of the things we recognize is that people have lots of different stuff in their data centers.
Steve Wilson,
VP, Connected Systems NetworkSun Microsystems Inc.

Like other Xen hypervisors, xVM Server will run Windows, Linux and Solaris guests, Wilson said. Unlike them, xVM is built on top of Solaris rather than Linux and therefore can take advantage of capabilities unique to Sun's own OS, namely Sun's ZFS high-performance file system and its Fault Management Architecture (FMA), a self-healing functionality that allows Solaris isolate and restart a component when it experiences a failure.

"If you're running on [VMware] ESX today, and a DIMM [dual inline memory module] fails, you have no fault management," said Dan Roberts, director of Solaris marketing. "Your VMware goes, and all your guests blue-screen," he said. "With FMA, you have full fault management underneath all your Windows, Linux and Solaris guests."

The xVM hypervisor will also run on Solaris for Sun's UltraSparc chips, but in this case, the name simply refers to Sun's existing Logical Domain (LDom) technology; there are no plans to port Xen to UltraSparc. "We already have a very capable hypervisor for UltraSparc," Wilson said.

Not just a hypervisor
The second component of the xVM brand is xVM Ops Center, a Web-based management framework that borrows heavily from technology in Sun Connection, N1, and that from Sun's Aduva acquisition last year. Administrators will use xVM Ops Center to perform tasks like these:

  • discovery and inventory;
  • checking and provisioning firmware;
  • bare-metal provisioning of hypervisors and operating systems;
  • provisioning of applications;
  • software lifecycle management (e.g., patch management);
  • monitoring;
  • and
  • compliance reporting.

Not surprisingly, a lot of this capability will be available first on Sun's own hardware and operating systems, but plans are in the works to extend xVM Ops Center to non-Sun hardware, virtualization platforms and guest OSes.

"One of the things we recognize is that people have lots of different stuff in their data centers," Wilson said. So, for instance, in a first release, firmware provisioning will be limited to Sun hardware; but if a server OEM supports Intel's Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI), Sun could potentially provision firmware to that server as well.

Whether xVM Ops Center would be used to manage virtual machines within other vendors' hypervisors remains to be seen. "There's the sense that [VMware] VirtualCenter does a pretty good job managing 'upstack,'" Wilson said (such as, for example, performing patch management and provisioning of individual guests).

That said, xVM should have good integration with Microsoft's Windows Server Virtualization (aka Viridian), which will be released next year. Part of the deal struck last month between the two companies ensures that "Solaris will run on Viridian, and Windows will run on xVM," said Roberts. More importantly, the deal provides for both companies to officially support their environments running as guests on one another's hypervisors. That arrangement stands in contrast to Windows running on VMware today, Roberts said. "There is no official support" from Redmond for Windows guests on ESX, he said. (For VMware's response to Roberts, see "Microsoft support for VMware: Wishful thinking?" on our blog.)

The xVM roadmap
When is all this virtualization goodness slated to ship? That depends on which component you're talking about. xVM Server for UltraSparc (LDom) is shipping and available today, while the Xen-based version is currently available in OpenSolaris. A preview edition of xVM version 1.0 is slated for January 2008 and will be generally available by the second quarter of 2008.

The second component, xVM Ops Center, meanwhile, is much closer. Version 1.0 is scheduled for general availability by December of this year; and a 2.0 version should ship in the second quarter of 2008.

Sun was cagey about how it will package xVM on its hardware. Unlike the other major server OEMs (Dell, HP and IBM), Sun has not expressed the intention to offer systems bundled with VMware ESX 3i, the company's embedded hypervisor. "We're still looking at that," Wilson said. Whatever the case, "we're still going to sell a lot of VMware and make sure it works well with our stuff."

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

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