RealTime IT News

Virtualization Comes to the Fore... Again

As major systems vendors are lining up to declare utility computing strategies, smaller infrastructure providers are shaping their product portfolios around the current trend for rendering computing resources as pay-as-you-go options.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware is one such concern who stands to benefit from the explosion in on-demand services, which help corporations cut back on the manpower they need to manage their data centers, and by extension, cut costs.

VMware specializes in virtualization -- the practice of making resources from disparate devices accessible via one location -- for Intel-based servers. The company Monday unveiled the VMware VirtualCenter as a key piece to help those interested in laying a utility computing foundation manage their infrastructure.

Meanwhile, employing similar notions of rendering workloads less cumbersome, Microsoft released a "virtual PC" to manufacturing that allows customer to migrate their applications to Windows XP.

Michael Mullany, vice president of marketing at VMware, said the company has significantly upgraded a product it called VMware Control Center to serve as a virtual infrastructure layer of abstraction between computing hardware and software that can provision services. Now called VirtualCenter, an administrator can manage thousands of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 2003, Linux and Netware servers from a single console, Mullany told internetnews.com.

Several firms offer virtualization technologies, a key component to on-demand environments, but Mullany said VMware has divorced the hardware from the software management, allowing the hardware to be managed as one large pool similar to the virtual machine technology developed for traditional mainframes.

Mullany said VirtualCenter employs a technology called VMotion that moves virtual machines from one physical system to another while maintaining continuous service availability. VMotion keeps the entire state of an x86 server in software, which then allows that state to be duplicated and shifted from place to place.

In a time when companies can't afford server downtime because of the potential for millions in lost dollars, VirtualCenter takes the operating system on one server and moves it without interruption to another to run software services on the fly. Maintenance is also performed without taking the system offline.

"This really lowers the cost of Intel server farms," Mullany said. "It converts the workloads of all of the servers to run as a single hardware pool without dropping any of your users. This type of thing used to take weeks, but now it can be done in seconds."

Speedy uptime is a hallmark of utility computing and companies such as IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems, Veritas and several others are arming themselves with similar capabilities and services to sell to their enterprise customers. Mullany said VMware has an advantage because its virtualization offering powers Intel architectures, something that systems vendors have found difficult to do even though they already provide it for Unix mainframe systems.

In fact, those same large systems vendor often license VMware technology to provide for their own customers and Mullany said he hoped they'd do the same for Virtual Center.

VirtualCenter also features a template library to allow administrators to manage a versioned library of server templates that can be used to provision new services and like most management software products, provides monitoring and alerting in case of server failures and over and underutilization events. There is also a VirtualCenter software development kit so that events can be triggered by external systems.

VMware VirtualCenter includes the VirtualCenter Management Server and VirtualCenter Management Packs. The VirtualCenter Management Server is $5,000. VirtualCenter Management Packs are $600 per 2-CPU. VMotion is an optional add-on and is $1,400 per 2-CPU.

Microsoft says virtualize it

Microsoft entered the Intel virtualization fray last February when it purchased Connectix. Monday the software giant took its Virtual PC 2004, a desktop virtual machine solution to help customers migrate legacy applications to Windows XP, to manufacturing before its formal launch.

Microsoft Virtual 2004 is a tool enterprise customers can use to run multiple operating systems on one PC, so employees can run critical legacy applications on an interim basis while developers proceed with the migration to Windows XP Professional. Like the VMware VirtualCenter, Virtual PC 2004 provides rapid configuration, enabling desk or call center employees to switch among operating systems without logging in and out between calls.

Also like the VMware solution, Virtual PC 2004 allows developers to test their software for bugs across multiple platforms. New features of Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 include support for as many as four network adapters per virtual machine; XML file-based configuration of virtual machines to make the copying of a virtual machine to another computer easier ; and 4 GB of memory support.

The software will retain Virtual Machine Additions, which provides a high level of integration between host and guest operating systems, including mouse, time synchronization, cut-and-paste, drag-and-drop, and folder sharing.

Microsoft Virtual PC will be available for an estimated retail price of $129, which is less than the Connectix price of $229.