Virtualizing Server Farms

Looking to improve its position in the server virtualization market, VMware will unveil ESX Server 3 and VirtualCenter 2 software at the company’s annual show in Las Vegas later today.

VMware has added high-availability software to both the virtualization capabilities in ESX Server 3, and the control and management utilities in VirtualCenter 2 to accommodate applications running on farms of servers, .

This yields distributed availability services, which detect failed virtual machines and automatically restart them on alternate ESX Server hosts. Distributed availability services select a failover host that can accommodate the virtual machine’s resource allocations so that service level agreements are met, said Brian Byun, vice president of products.

“ESX Server 3 and VirtualCenter 2 coordinate to monitor virtual machines, as well as the physical servers they are on, and to automatically restart and relocate them on alternate server hosts,” Byun said.

For instance, if you have five servers that have 25 virtual workloads running on them, and the fifth server failed, the five virtual machines running on it would be reassigned to the other servers based on workload and how much capacity those virtual machines needed.

Another feature is how it treats servers as a pool of compute resources.

Distributed resource scheduling triggers a self-managing compute cluster with built-in resource and load balancing. This technology, built on top of VMotion and VirtualCenter, balances virtual machine workloads across ESX Server hosts so users can safely operate at 80 percent or higher.

How do they work?

Take the same five servers with 25 virtual machines from the previous example, including a mixed bag of database servers, application servers and Web servers, Byun explained.

Regardless of where that machine lives at a given time, whether it is an older two-way, or a newer four-way server, the resource scheduling tool will automatically monitor what else is going on in these different servers and load balance them and place them in the right location.

To wit, the services detect when new virtual machine activity saturates an ESX Server host, then triggers VMotion live migrations to move running virtual machines to other ESX Server nodes, so that all service levels are met.

In other upgrades, ESX Server 3 has broader x86 support to meet dual-core processor hardware needs, as well as more NAS and iSCSI storage support. With new usage reporting and security auditing features, VirtualCenter 2 now scales up to hundreds of hosts and thousands of virtual machines.

VMware ESX Server 3 and VMware VirtualCenter 2 are currently in limited beta testing. A public beta program will begin later this year and general release will follow in Q1 2006.

In other VMware news, the EMC subsidiary unveiled new server consolidation assessment services that quickly assess the capacity utilization of an business’ IT gear and looks for server consolidation possibilities.

The thrust behind these services is to pare planning and implementation time in the face of narrow consolidation windows. The VMware server consolidation assessment services include an introductory capacity assessment and a more detailed virtualization assessment. Custom assessments tailored for more complex customer environments are also available.

With more than 60 software vendors supporting its products, VMware is at the forefront of the server virtualization revolution, in which corporate customers are running multiple instances of an application or operating system on a single physical machine.

Microsoft is looking to compete with VMware with its Virtual Server 2005 product. Incidentally, the Redmond, Wash., software giant eased customer concerns by agreeing to license a server application to the virtual CPU instead of the number of physical CPUs.

Byun said VMware welcomed Microsoft’s move, suggesting that the move could open up revenue opportunities for VMware, which specializes in the virtualization of computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

“Microsoft has taken a a very good position on it and other vendors will be following,” Byun said.

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