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Sun Microsystems enters x86 server virtualization arena

With xVM, Sun Microsystems has entered the x86 server virtualization marketplace. While it runs on any hardware platform and supports any OS, xVM still has to compete with VMware.

Last week, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc. introduced a new server virtualization product called Sun xVM for x86 servers, which will be available later this summer. The bare-metal hypervisor is based on open source Xen technologies and Solaris. It can host several guest operating systems, including Windows and Linux.

With a Solaris-based kernel, servers running Sun xVM can take advantage of Solaris features like Predictive Self-Healing and Zettabyte File System, or ZFS, the open source file system designed by Sun Microsystems for Solaris.

For more on Sun virtualization:
Sun thinks big with xVM Ops Center

Sun slots Xen into server virtualization portfolio`

The benefit of Predictive Self-Healing is that if you run a guest OS on Sun xVM Server running on hardware from Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, or Dell and a memory dual-inline memory module (DIMM) fails, Sun xVM Server can isolate the failing DIMM from the system and the guest OS can continue to run uninterrupted.

Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said the ability run Solaris on other platforms with virtualization is an attractive option for users that want density and good performance as well as flexibility.

"Solaris Containers are great for consolidation density and performance, but lack the mobility offered by Xen, VMware, etc," Wolf said. "Long term, I'll be able to use the Sun solution to manage several layers of virtualization (LDoms [Logical Domains], Solaris Containers, xVM Server) across an enterprise," Wolf said. "For example, you may see Solaris Containers running inside Xen-based VMs [virtual machines]. The benefit is the hardware independence and mobility offered by Xen, while also realizing the higher consolidation and more efficient use of system resources offered by Solaris Containers. So in the end, you get the best of both worlds."

Managing layered virtualization -- and added complexity
Of course, layered virtualization adds complexity, so simplifying the management stack is key, Wolf said.
Even though [Sun xVM] is a heterogeneous story, you'll want some Solaris knowledge to use it.
Gordon Haff,
analystIlluminata Inc.

The management tools that drive virtualization software factor into which vendor an end user chooses; many users say that they will stay with VMware despite lower-cost options like Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer, partly because VMware's management tools are robust.

Sun's Sun xVM Ops Center management software can manage VMs and the underlying hardware, as well as VMs from VMware, so users can adopt xVM Ops Center without abandoning VMware.

Wolf said "on paper, Sun has a "very good end-to-end virtualization strategy."

"As xVM Server and the xVM management ecosystem matures, Sun will have an opportunity to be a significant player in the virtualization space," Wolf said. "I think their strategy is right on the money. If they can execute on that strategy fairly rapidly, I can see them as being the number three or number four virtualization solution vendor within the next two to five years."

But Gordon Haff, and analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. said Sun xVM won't put a noticeable dent in VMware sales and compares xVM with Microsoft's upcoming Hyper-V virtualization product in terms of its market impact.

"If someone has a heavy Sun Solaris environment, they can use [xVM] and don't have to go to third parties for basic virtualization," Haff said. "But I don't see someone who uses Windows going out and buying it, just as a non-Microsoft shop is not going to go out and buy Hyper-V. XVM will be most popular with Sun shops. Even though it is a heterogeneous story, you'll want some Solaris knowledge to use it, because the hypervisor is built on Solaris."

The xVM platform will be subscription based, but pricing will not be announced until the product nears release in July.

Sun plans to make the Sun xVM Server code available in the OpenxVM community once the product is commercially available. Today, an early version of the server virtualization product is already available in the OpenSolaris community.

Sun also offers a desktop virtualization product, which the company announced in September 2007.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. Also, check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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