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VMware shop won't rule out Xen

Mosso runs on VMware Virtual Infrastructure, but scalability constraints have prompted the managed hosting provider to shop around.

Managed service provider (MSP) Mosso has the distinction of running its entire environment on top of VMware Virtual...

Infrastructure 3, hosting more than 30,000 Web sites in the process.

For more on VMware Virtual Infrastructure:
VMware ESX 3.0 upgrades stall on license costs

VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3
"We try as hard as possible not to have anything that's a physical box," said Jonathan Bryce, who, along with another co-founder, helped spin off Mosso from Rackspace Managed Hosting, a traditional hosting and colocation provider based in San Antonio, Texas.

We've tried not to tie our system too directly to VMware, because we might potentially switch it out for Xen.
Jonathan Bryce,

Compared with Rackspace, Mosso aims to completely insulate customers from the technical intricacies of building and maintaining a Web site. To that end, the firm has built a large automated provisioning system that dynamically creates Web sites for customers without any technical expertise on their part. "Our customers don't set up Apache or MySQL," Bryce said. Similarly, Mosso customers are shielded from the fact that they are running on virtual infrastructure. "It's completely seamless," he said. "They usually don't know about it."

In early 2006, Mosso launched on physical hardware; but by December 2006, it had moved to VMware in production, consolidating more than 200 physical servers to less than 40 organized into clusters providing services like Apache, MySQL, PHP, .NET and Ruby on Rails.

Hedging VMware bets
But less than a year later, Mosso is back up to 200 hosts, each running between two and four virtual machines (VMs). At that pace, the MSP could outgrow VMware and its management environment VirtualCenter in the coming year, as VirtualCenter is limited to 1,200 VMs, Bryce said. "Past that, you have to duplicate your VI [Virtual Infrastructure] configuration," Bryce said.

As such, Mosso isn't devoting too many resources into developing its environment around VMware. Instead, it will use "the basics like VMotion and DRS" and try not to custom-code too much of the environment. "We've tried not to tie our system too directly to VMware, because we might potentially switch it out for Xen," Bryce said. The company recently finished evaluating Citrix XenServer and will soon evaluate Oracle VM, Bryce said.

With Xen-based virtualization platforms, Bryce said, the philosophy is to provide "the engine and the access, on which you are free to do whatever you want."

The company is also "talking to VMware to help us develop more advanced features, although I don't know how much success we'll have," Bryce said. "VMware is building the tools that 80% of business needs; the problem is, we do things in the remaining 20% that not many people need."

Whatever way Mosso decides to go – with VMware or with Xen – the virtualization platform's management will take the firm only so far. The extremely spiky nature of Web site traffic requires Mosso to have visibility into not just VM memory and CPU usage but also into the specific resources being consumed by the applications within it. To that end, Mosso monitors its environment using Hyperic HQ Enterprise, an open source systems management suite that it has customized extensively.

"Hyperic lets us look into performance at a deeper level than just processor and memory," Bryce said, "but also things like individual users and databases" running across all Mosso's services.

Ultimately, that level of granularity will enable Mosso to go beyond manually moving users around in response to surges in demand. Currently,"if a customer is spiking," said Bryce, "we move them to an existing environment [using VMotion] that has more space." In the future, Mosso will dynamically create and break down an entirely new environment for the user.

"It's really the information, the intelligence, that we need in order to know when to do these things."

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

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