Novell SUSE 10's Xen: Walk Before You Run

virtualization Linux Server

Observers note that Xen 3.0 is a robust virtualization engine but its integration into a mainstream Linux operating system is a first of its kind in the industry and may not be as efficient as more mature proprietary products.

"We'll have to take the same road as VMware. We have to walk before we run," said Clyde Griffin, a Novell product manager who demonstrated SLES 10 on the show floor at the company's recent Brainshare 2006 conference in Salt Lake City. "Xen is a maturing technology and we won't be able to offer the same level of support [for guest operating systems] as for SLES," Griffin said.

For example, the first iteration of the SUSE server will offer support for SLES 10 and SLES 9 workloads only, Griffin said.

Support for Windows and Solaris workloads will be technically feasible once Intel VT-enabled servers and Advanced Micro Device's Pacifica-based servers ship this year but only a low level of customer support can be offered for non-SUSE guest workloads, Griffin said.

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He expects the platform will initially be deployed to run multiple Linux workloads in virtual machines on SLES 10 and will expand to other guest operating systems as the industry cooperates on support options.

In early April, XenSource, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that oversees the open-source Xen project, will announce a Xen Server Edition that offers installers for Xen and Linux guests, fine-grained control of server resources and a built-in management console for one or more servers.

One partner expects more adoption of Linuxand virtualization softwareby Novell customers in the next 12 months. "Virtualization is hot and with Xen, we're ahead of that curve," said Rob Hart, director of business development at Data Technique, a Novell Platinum partner in Pittsburg, Kan.

Novell's Griffin said neither Novell nor Red Hatwhich plans to integrate Xen 3.0 into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 later this yearwill be able to provide commercial support for Windows and Solaris workloads running on Xen virtual machines any more than they do today for Windows and Solaris servers that run side-by-side with SUSE Linux and Netware.

Customers currently get support for Windows and Solaris servers running in Netware environments through Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, but those two vendors have no policies in place to support Windows and Solaris workloads on SLES 10's Xen engine, he noted. He said it's possible Microsoft may not offer that support for Xen since it's competing against Xen with its Virtual Server product and plans for an integrated hypervisor in the Windows server.

And while Sun said it will support Xen 3.0, the company favors use of its own homegrown container technology in Solaris 10 for running multiple workloads on Solaris, analysts note.

Novell customers acknowledged the potential support issue but say they don't expect much support will be needed if Xen is as reliable as VMware.

"Virtualization is very reliable, but Xen needs to get more mature," said Robert McInerney, an IS infrastructure manager for TRW Automotive, Livonia, Mich., which has deployed 20 Open Enterprise Servers (OES) and plans to move to Novell's Linux platform.

TRW Automotive works with service partners Satyam, Volt, Perot Systems, Novell Consulting and subcontractors. "Right now, we're converting 50 servers into VMware and we've only done eight servers," he added. "When it's more mature, I can see moving to Xen. It's offered at a much lower price. VMware had better lower the price on ESX or they'll lose market share," McInerney said.

Marc Lamoureux is director of IS for BridgePoint Health, Toronto, a Novell customer that plans to move to Linux. He currently is partnering with Novell Consulting, HealthTek Solutions and Pentura on a portal project and is enthusiastic about the Xen technology in SLES 10 and OES.

"Virtualization is huge for the data center. It manages risk and provides a failover system to replace expensive, complicated disaster recovery systems and it lets you get more computing power out of a server. We're going to install Novell Linux and pilot the virtualization and see how it works," he said.

Meanwhile, SUSE Linux Enterprise 11, due in 2008, will offer full storage virtualization, said another Novell-SUSE product manager at the show.