Sun outlines virtualisation plan

Sun Microsystems has previewed its new hypervisor and management software, set for full release next year.

Sun Microsystems are set to enter the virtualisation market with a new line of products available next year.

"This is a big, bold step for Sun," Richard Green, executive vicepresident of software said at a preview in London today.

The Sun xVM hypervisor will be on general release by the second quarter next year, but will have two previews, the first by the end of this year and the second my May 2008. The system is already available in the Open Solaris community, but will be released as a separate commercial product from Sun.

The type-one hypervisor - which means it sits directly on the hardware - is based on technology developed by the Xen open source community, but has a Solaris-based kernel rather than a Linux one. "It's not trivial technology, but we're good at those sorts of things," Green said.

The xVM will run Linux, Windows or Solaris operating systems on any hardware, he said. Sun already has an agreement in place with Microsoft to ensure Windows works smoothly on the virtualisation system, that it is a "good guest". The agreement will flip the other way when Microsoft announces its virtualisation products, to ensure Solaris is a "good guest," too.

The xVM will also allow technology to be passed from the server to the operating system, so tools such as the ZFS file system, which is included on the hypervisor will be inherited by the OS. "It can take advantage of them even if the guest OS wasn't aware of them," said Green.

Also in production as part of the virtualisation lineup is a set of management tools, called Ops Centre, which will be on general release from December 2007.

Green said Ops Centre is about bringing together virtualisation technology with management tools. "One without the other is not particularly compelling, but together... is really the central point of the products we're previewing here today."

While virtualisation offers clear value thought consolidation, Green said management is needed to deal with increasingly complicated workloads and compression. "As you compress workloads onto a moderate number of virtual machines, any outage is very significant," he said, explaining that there's an inverse relationship between compression and risk. "When compression is part of game to deal with eco-issues... you have to compensate by providing service technology to deal with that."

"Used to have 10 servers with 10 operating systems, now you have 10 servers with 100 operating systems," Green said, adding that managing that additional complexity will be a challenge. "Lots of people aren't worrying about this yet, as the value of virtualisation is very compelling," he said, adding that companies need to understand how virtualisation will affect the consumption of system resources.

"The challenge in managing these environments is that in not instance you can deal with just physical or just virtual - the world doesn't partition so easily," Green said. "Ops Centre deals with both."

Sun said they were stepping into virtualisation because of the strength of the market. Rather than being a value add-on to current products, this new line is there to make money, Green stressed.

He said the technology isn't just an over-hyped, passing fad, either. Indeed, Green said virtualisation solves a fundamental problem with IT and computers - the close integration of hardware and software. "The latest round in virtualisation interest came from disparancy between hardware capabilities and system and application requirements," he said, adding that microprocessors have outstripped the requirements of applications, paving the way for virtualisation. "It's clearly shaping up to become how computing is to be constructed," Green said.

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