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Sun Makes Virtualization Push, Plans Closer Xen Ties

Making a big push into server virtualization, Sun Microsystems on Tuesday introduced new virtualization technologies based on its Solaris 10 operating system.

server virtualization

The technology make better use of Solaris 10's virtual partitions, which Sun calls Solaris Containers. The Santa Clara, Calif., company also unveiled new servers designed to leverage the new virtualization technology. Sun, too, outlined plans to better support Linux and Xen virtualization with Solaris.

Solution providers welcomed the virtualization move as a way to improve Sun's competitiveness with IBM.

Kip Lindberg, vice president of enterprise sales at Ncell Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider that works with Sun and IBM, said IBM has held the technology lead in servers for two to three years thanks to the virtualization capabilities of its Series p server line.

Because traditional server technology typically has a single server being used to run a single application, customers on the average use only part their server capacity. Virtualization offers a huge total cost of ownership advantage in that multiple applications can be run on one server.

For instance, Lindberg said, customers using virtualization can have an application running in production mode in one partition and the same application running in another partition for test purposes. A patch can be tested and, if found suitable, rolled into the production partition.

Solaris Containers, however, offer that level of flexibility, according to Lindberg. For example, he said, if a patch is applied to one Container, that patch is automatically applied to all of them.

"With the new Solaris 10 technology, Sun is definitely catching up with IBM," Lindberg said. "This is critical. We're seeing a big move to using multiple partitions on one server. IBM uses that as a sales point against Sun."

Sun on Tuesday unveiled five new virtualization offerings. The first is LDoms, short for Logical Domains, which is virtualization technology for the Sun Fire UltraSPARC T1 CoolThread servers. LDoms allow customers to run multiple operating systems within Solaris 10 Solaris Containers, said Pradeep Parmar, x64 product line business driver at Sun.

Using LDoms, customers can run up to 32 virtualized environments per Niagara processor, Parmar said.

Larry Wake, group manager for Solaris, said support for LDoms will come in the next update of Solaris 10, expected "November 35," which he called the gray area between late November and early December.

Sun this week also started shipping upgraded Galaxy Sun Fire X4000 servers based on AMD Opteron processors, Parmar said. The products include the Sun Fire X4600 M2, a 16-way, 4U server that can be used to consolidate applications that have been running on more than 50 legacy x86 servers. It runs on four or eight AMD Opteron 8000 dual-core processors. Also released were the Sun Fire X4200 M2 and X4100 M2, which have up to two Opteron 2000 processors. Using VMware, up to 22 servers can be virtualized on a single X4200 M2 or X4100 M2.

All of the new Sun Fire servers run applications on Solaris 10, Red Hat, SUSE Linux, Windows Server and VMware, and the servers can be used with VMware, Xen and Microsoft Virtual Server virtualization technology. Sun is further enhancing its virtualization capabilities with support for VMware EXS 3.0.1 on the Sun Fire X4600, a 16-way, 4U server based on the Opteron 800 dual-core processors, as well as for its SunBlade 8000 modular servers. EXS 3.0.1, the new 64-bit version of the VMware virtualization software, was unveiled early this month.

Sun also is offering life-cycle services for virtualization -- including consulting, education, and support services -- to customers and through the channel, Parmar said. In addition, Sun is providing free two-day assessments of customers' data infrastructure virtualization requirements to show how they might cut costs consolidating on Sun servers, or on Solaris running on current Sun, IBM or Dell servers, he said.

Along with support for LDoms, the next update of Solaris 10 will have enhanced Solaris Containers that support virtualization using Xen, VMware and LDoms, Wake said.

"Virtualization is at the heart of everything we do," he said. "Now it will be easier to replicate and move Containers."

Sun, too, is working with the open-source community to improve Solaris support for Xen virtualization, Wake said.

"Xen is part of the software code base from which Solaris is derived," he said. "The work we have done with Solaris for Xen is open. This lets us use Solaris itself as a hypervisor to give capabilities no one else has: security, resiliency and self-healing."

Xen support for Solaris will be integrated into the operating system, with the first offerings expected in early to mid-2007, Wake said. "Whether we will integrate Xen into the Solaris code is still a product and packaging issue to be resolved," he said. "We figure the customers who use Xen probably already have it."

As part of the Open Solaris program, Sun is working on the Solaris Containers for Linux Application, which will let Solaris on an x86-based server run Linux applications directly without requiring a Linux operating system, Wake said.

"We can run Linux binaries on the Solaris Containers," he said. "The management is done by Solaris. Customers pay for the Solaris license, but they don't have to pay for Red Hat."

The Solaris Containers for Linux Application is available for companies that work with the Open Solaris program, and it's expected to be available as a product by mid-2007, Wake said.

Parmar said about 5 million registered licenses of Solaris 10 have been downloaded so far. About 70 percent have been aimed at x86 or 64-bit x86 servers, including servers from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell.

"So now we look at HP, IBM and Dell as channel partners," Parmar said. "This gives VARs opportunities to do upgrades on those servers. They can sell services for the Solaris 10 licenses. And since many partners also sell VMware, there are even more service opportunities."

Parmar and Wake couldn't say how many of the 5 million Solaris 10 downloads went to paying customers. But Wake said he doesn't mind if some of them are unpaid.

"We figure, if a customer is not paying for support services, they probably aren't paying for any OS," he said. "It's better they use Solaris than another OS. And we may turn them into paid support contracts someday."

PAULA ROONEY contributed to this story.

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