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Virtuozzo 4.0: Worth considering

If your company is buying into the virtualization game, you may want to consider Virtuozzo 4.0.

I work in a VMware shop (one of these days I’ll post on my 3.5 experiences) but I follow the virtualization market, and since SWsoft/Parallels released Virtuozzo 4.0, I think there’s  room for Parallels in the market.

Right now, SWsoft Parallels/Virtuozzo owns virtualization in the Web-hosting provider space. Their other products have a lot of traction in that space too (think Plesk and SiteBuilder). And of course, there’s the Mac virtualization product to beat – Parallels Desktop, the gold-medal standard that runs a few laps around poor Fusion, and the forthcoming Parallels Server which will let people virtualize OS X Server (as long as it’s all on Mac hardware!).

From their recent market moves, the company seems to be trying to take on Citrix’s Xen and Microsoft’s Virtual Server, perhaps even make a run on some of VMware’s market share by making some bold moves in the virtualization space. Once again, they are touting their OS-encapsulation variation on virtualization with Virtuozzo, which just released version 4.o.

From the Parallels blog:

Parallels Virtuozzo Containers is different because is virtualizes the OPERATING SYSTEM, not the hardware. This means that you can install an OS (Windows or Linux) and then run workloads off that single kernel in isolated execution environments that we call “containers.” Because all of the containers are working in direct contact with real hardware and are all working off that one OS install, performance is exceptional…about 97-99% of native, regardless of how many containers are running. And, container footprints are tiny – only 10 MB of RAM and 45 MB of disk space required at the bare minimum.

From a product feature view, you get many of the same features that one finds in other high-end products like VMware and XenServer:

  1. Management Interface – Groups virtualized systems logically making them easier to manage. You can also assign role-based administrative and reporting rights to users.
  2. P2V Tool – Allows you to migration from your old virtualization platform of choice to Virtuozzo. Allows for upgrading of Win2K servers to Win2K3 as part of the migration!
  3. Backup – Allows you to take a virtual machine and make a backup while the machine is running, and then stores the backup on another host.
  4. Templates – Allows you to install a virtual machine, make it into a template, and deploy new machines based on that template.
  5. CPU restriction – Since this is not a true virtual machine, the guests typically see all of the CPUs. This can now be restricted on Windows systems so that guests see only a set number of processors.

Some problematic areas in the past were with OS-level clustering and network load balancing in the virtual machines (now called “virtual environments,” since they really aren’t seperate machines).

The new version appears to address these issues and improves upon the handling of multi-NIC hosts and how particular virtual environments see and use those NICs (as well as other devices such as USB external drives, USB product key fobs, etc.). Virtuozzo containers, like most virtualization products, support both 32-bit and 64-bit virtual environments.

In a Web-hosting environment, this is a great tool because of the massive number of sites that can be provided to clients. Considering that the average corporate data center is not entirely different from a hosting provider (especially when you start talking about chargeback), Virtuozzo may work out well, but the cons and pros must both be considered.

Virtuozzo won’t do much in file/print or in in Terminal Services, but in putting out Web-based applications to users, or even standard client-server apps, Virtuozzo has a lot of the same advantages of VMware, Xen, Virtual Server, VirtualBox and so on in regards to server consolidation and controlling hardware growth.

I wouldn’t count on the thousands-to-one ratio often touted in the Web-hosting space because of the very small footprint required per Web site, but there is undoubtedly a much higher container-per-host ratio than traditional hypervisor-based virtualization. There is a risk of failure if something hoses on the operating system (kernel panic on a Linux box, BSOD on a Windows box, driver dropout on either, etc.,) because that OS runs the entire show – but that’s the same on any platform: lose the host OS, lose all the guests.

The risk may be higher on Virtuozzo hosts because of the difficulties of a single-OS that gets put into a container – things like “DLL hell,” missing dependencies, etc. that are less pervasive in hypervisor hosts (but that remains to be seen).

Also, one Virtuozzo server of a given operating system can run only other servers of that same operating system (or in the case of Linux, of that exact same kernel). Lastly, there is more risk involved if your hardware isn’t redundant, and this is where the business models differ:

  • Traditional Hypervisor: Cheaper (commodity) hardware front-end, expensive storage, smaller ratio of virtualized machines.
  • Container Virtualization: Expensive (clustered commodity or other redundant HW) front end, expensive storage, higher ratio of virtualized machines.

A good analysis of a virtualization project proposal will include Virtuozzo as a candidate not only for the features, but because it is important to review the overall costs. As a simplified example (one that I deliberately am making equal out so as not to show any bias) without any licensing networking, operations, and soft-costs included may look like this:

Proposal 1: Virtuozzo – Virtualize 100 servers

  • 2 x (Passive-Active) Clustered Server: $50,000
  • 1 x New SAN: $100,000
  • Total: $150,000

Proposal 2: VMware / Xen / Etc. – Virtualize 100 servers

  • 10 x Generic Server: $50,000
  • 1 x New SAN: $100,000
  • Total: $150,000

Bearing all of this in mind, it’s time to add Virtuozzo to the watchlists when virtualization comes up.

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