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IT shop adds life to legacy software with vSphere 4

By virtualizing with VMware's vSphere 4, an IT shop has extended the life of its legacy OS, SCO UnixWare, and old business applications.

Amid all the noise about sophisticated new features in VMware vSphere 4, one IT manager wants something that's a lot less sexy: official support for SCO UnixWare.

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That's because Doug Soltesz, the vice president of information systems and technology at Budd Van Lines, in Somerset N.J., has order entry and financial systems that still run on SCO UnixWare 5. So far no one has stepped up to write a replacement that runs on a more modern operating system.

"People don't write a lot of software for the moving and storage industry," Soltesz said.

His choices are to stay on the system or build a new one from scratch, which would be cost-prohibitive. For instance, one of Budd Van Lines' competitors tapped Oracle to build it a custom order-entry platform but reportedly paid millions of dollars for the privilege.

Extending legacy applications' life span
By virtualizing, Soltesz expects a threefold performance boost because the apps will run on modern, SAN-attached servers. Backup and restore will also be easier. More to the point, virtualizing these apps will give Soltesz peace of mind. "My goal in getting this thing virtualized is for it to live forever, because virtual hardware lives forever," Soltesz said. As it stands, "I don't even like to touch it."

Indeed, using virtualization to extend the life of legacy applications and operating systems is an important use case for virtualization and VMware in particular, said Gary Chen, IDC's research manager for enterprise virtualization software. "A lot of these OSes are fading, but people still have them. To know that your virtualization software can support them gives you a lot of flexibility," he said.

SCO UnixWare and OpenServer are but two of the 20 new guest operating systems supported by vSphere 4, including such oldies but goodies as FreeBSD, OS/2, MS-DOS, and NetWare. VMware's vSphere 4 is the successor to VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) platform and includes the ESX hypervisor, plus virtualization management tools. The new hypervisor will also include support for newer OSes, such as Windows 7 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.

No heavy lifting required
Adding support for these OSes probably didn't represent a lot of engineering work for VMware, Chen said. "They're already virtualizing the hardware, so it should just work." "The biggest part for them is testing and certification, and adding it to their support matrix."

Indeed, enterprising IT managers run non-supported OSes in VMware all the time. But Soltesz said he wasn't comfortable with that. "Sure, it can be done, but this system is mission-critical," he said. Furthermore, importing a legacy OS in to a VM can be tricky. "I'm just not familiar enough with Unix to do it myself."

Converting a physical system to a virtual machine (VM) is usually done using physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration tools, but most of them support only a limited number of operating systems. Another option is to make a block-level copy of the hardware using software such as Symantec's Ghost, but that doesn't always work either, Chen said. "A lot of [the legacy OSes] will die when you boot them up," Chen said, because the OS doesn't recognize the new, virtual hardware.

Ultimately, a better solution would be to do a clean-install of the OS and application directly into the virtual machine, said Chen -- assuming you have the disks. "Getting it into the VM could be a lot of work, but it will be worth it because then you have a future roadmap for the [legacy OS]."

When it comes to legacy systems, VMware has a much better story to tell than do competitors like Citrix Systems Inc. and Microsoft, Chen said. Hyper-V, for instance, supports 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows server and client operating systems going back to Windows Server 2000 and XP, respectively, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10.

Meanwhile, back at Budd Van Lines, Soltesz said that virtualizing its SCO apps will bring it one step closer to being 100% virtualized. Currently, the firm has five ESX 3.5 hosts running about 100 virtual machines, running a variety of Windows applications. Other than the SCO apps, the only other apps still running on dedicated hardware are VMware vCenter, which Soltesz said the company will virtualize eventually, and two Avaya voicemail servers that require specialized hardware. "We like to virtualize everything we can," Soltesz said.

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

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