A potent combination of VMware Inc.'s Workstation and dynamic software provisioning technology from FastScale Technology Inc. has enabled the pre-sales organization at Informatica Corp. to create vastly better demos.
Using FastScale Composer Suite, the IT staff at Informatica, an independent software vendor (ISV) in Redwood City, Calif., creates images of its various software stacks that are orders of magnitude smaller than a normal stack, said Tony Young, the CIO at Informatica. With these smaller stacks in hand, pre-sales engineers can visit potential customers with far more stack configurations loaded on their laptops than if the stacks were straight virtual machines (VMs). And because the images are so small, they can be run from memory and thus provide better performance.For Informatica, the ability to tote around multiple stacks, or images, is particularly important; the company's software enables customers to integrate their various data sources. "As a data integration company, we have lots of different configurations that we need to demo," Young said. To wit, the company's product availability matrix lists more than 500,000 different supported operating system and application configurations.
FastScale Composer works by a patent-pending process that the company calls "application blueprinting." Essentially, FastScale Composer examines an application stack comprising an operating system, databases, application servers, etc., and "decomposes it" into only those components that the application really needs to run, explained Young. FastScale then stores these components in what it refers to as a "dynamic application bundle," or DAB, that can be reconstituted and provisioned to bare metal or to a VM.
Examples of components that might be excluded from a DAB include unnecessary device drivers and dynamic link libraries. "If you look at a typical application stack, all that stuff is big and fat, and you really don't need the majority of the stuff on the server," Young said.
Young estimates that Informatica's stacks will benefit from a conservative 10:1 space savings. Thus, a traditional 10 GB stack would result in a DAB of less than 1 GB, which can be run out of memory. Furthermore, when deployed into a VM, running a DAB rather than a complete image allows Informatica to run many more VMs per server, he said -- perhaps 75 per host, compared with the 25 VMs per host that Informatica runs today.
Informatica is in the process of installing FastScale's latest version, which became available earlier this week. This new version adds support for Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2. Previous FastScale versions supported only prior versions of Red Hat.
The new version also supports application blueprinting of individual applications, said Lynn LeBlanc, FastScale's CEO. "Just as a general-purpose operating system has many unused components, applications also have unused modules," LeBlanc said. For instance, if you want to use WebLogic to serve up a website comprising only static pages, it's unnecessary to load Java modules.
But it's the Windows support that is arguably the most important new feature of the FastScale suite. With Windows under FastScale's belt, LeBlanc thinks the company will be able to all but eliminate one of the most persistent and time-consuming system administration tasks: maintaining the myriad Windows golden images that IT staffs have to maintain.
Using traditional means, "building a production-worthy software image is a painful system administration tasks that can take weeks or months," LeBlanc said. Furthermore, because the resulting images are gigabytes in size, it can take hours to provision it to a bare-metal system over the network, limiting the organization to rather static infrastructure.
Informatica's Young concurred. "The Windows stuff is huge," he said. "You really can't underestimate the importance of supporting Microsoft."