Approaching virtualization with free tools

Posted by virtualization.info Staff   |   Friday, October 12th, 2007   |  

Server virtualization is a critical technology. It strongly impacts on corporation financial plan saving on power, cooling, building space, computers maintenance costs and hardware purchase and upgrade.
But it implies a high initial investment: adopters are required to spend on new class of hardware, like Storage Area Networks (SANs), on software and hardware redundancy, on more rational provisioning procedures, and on training: virtualization is not something you can implement without a solid knowledge of operating systems, storage, networking, security, performances troubleshooting.

This is enough to discourage a lot of smaller companies, believing in technology benefits but considering them a too long-term return on investment. But in most cases IT managers ignore many virtualization vendors are offering today valuable solutions for free, helping worldwide potential customers to embrace technology faster and with lower costs.

Broad availability of free platforms, security and monitoring solutions, creates a unique opportunity for institutions, SMBs and low-budgeted enterprise departments, to start small projects in a reliable way.

Platforms

First of all we need a virtualization engine and by chance it’s here we really have the biggest opportunity to save money.

Master of free virtualization platforms is for sure VMware with its Server and Player.

VMware Server used to be an enterprise virtualization platform called GSX Server with impressive features and management capabilities for Windows and Linux operating systems.

At the end of 2005 with an unprecedented move VMware decided to release it for free, without any form of limitation, conquering a big SMB market share. And since that time VMware Server still offers first-class features like support for 32 and 64bits operating systems (including multiple editions of Windows, Linux and Solaris), up to 2 virtual CPUs and 3,6GB RAM per virtual machine, capability to save virtual machine state, scripting APIs, web and rich-client management tools, and much more.

After just five months since launch of Server, VMware announced a second free platform: Player.

Player is feature-limited edition of another popular VMware product called Workstation, able to run just one virtual machine per time, without virtual hardware editing capabilities (something which is easily circumvented with free and allowed 3rd party tools like EasyVMX).

Server and Player can read each other virtual machines, so that VMware users can create and test them on Server, and then distribute to customers, sales force, partners, etc.

In few months VMware revolutionized virtualization market forever, boosting interest in this emerging technology like never before.

But VMware has not been alone in this liberal effort: Microsoft followed the trend and started offering its Virtual Server 2005 R2 for free as well.
Virtual Server comes from Microsoft acquisition of Connectix in 2003, and used to be a commercial solution available in Standard and Enterprise edition. But market dominance fight with VMware led to re-release the highest-end version of this product for free in April 2006.

In a not-so-far future anyway Microsoft could do much more than offering a free alternative to VMware Server: its next generation virtualization engine, Windows Server Virtualization (codenamed Viridian at today), is expected somewhere in the middle of 2008, and the software giant is supposed to offer it for free.

If so every company on the planet deploying a new Windows Server machine will be able to start earning virtualization benefits immediately, as an out-of-the-box experience.

Free virtualization platforms are not ended here: we have Xen, initially developed at Cambridge University, and now involving biggest IT vendors, like IBM, Novell, Red Hat, and many others.

Xen is an open source project distributed under GPL license, so it’s available for free to anybody willing to download sources and install them on a Linux operating system.

Xen is still behind capabilities and usability offered by VMware and Microsoft solutions, but two companies are working to fill the gap: XenSource (now part of Citrix) and Virtual Iron.

Both vendors are offering their own enhancements on top of Xen, improving performances or management capabilities, and both offers scaled down versions of their products for free.

XenSource exposes XenExpress, able to run up to four concurrent virtual machines (on maximum 2 physical socket) each with up to 4GB Ram, while Virtual Iron offers a Single Server Edition without any limitations.

Anyway the most unexpected free virtualization engine ever is Linux.

The open source operating system itself is able to act as virtualization platform since few months, thanks to inclusion in its kernel of a new module called KVM.

KVM is still very young and not comparable with any product above, but the idea of having a virtualization solution out-of-the-box already attracted a lot of community members and IT vendors, which are endorsing the solution.

Any kernel starting from 2.6.21 is including KVM, so any Linux distribution based on this kernel will be able to serve as free virtualization platform.

Another project made its way in Linux platform: it’s OpenVZ, the open source edition of SWsoft Virtuozzo.

OpenVZ, just like Virtuozzo, has a different approach than hardware virtualization solutions mentioned so far: while former are able to create isolated containers where users can install any kind of operating system (like a Windows virtual machine on top of a Linux platform), latter is “only” able to create isolated containers with copies of the same operating system.

This approach is less flexible but more suitable for some virtualization projects, like virtual hosting environments built by ISPs.

Moving away from Windows and Linux, we can find even Sun is offering a virtualization technology for free, Solaris Containers (also called Zones), included in Sun Solaris 10 operating system, which is free for personal and commercial use.

Solaris Containers are currently using same approach of OpenVZ (creation of multiples Solaris partitions isolated from each other), but Sun is working since two years on a new version, able to run also Linux binaries without any modification.

Physical to Virtual (P2V) migration

Once decided which virtualization platform we want to use, our next step will probably be migration of some existing physical servers inside virtual machines.

This operation, commonly called Physical to Virtual migration or P2V, usually implies three phases: a first one for inventory assets you have in your infrastructure, a second one for candidates’ recognition, where we monitor performances of existing servers and decide which workload is best for virtualization, and a third one for actual migration.

Probably first step is already done in our company as normal part of enterprise management tasks, but in case we still have to address this need PlateSpin is offering a free edition of its PowerRecon, which performs assets inventory for up to 100 servers.

For second step we could use any enterprise management solution we already have deployed for other tasks, or adopt a new one among several available on the market.
Among them there are several adopting an open source license, which are very famous and reliable, but are not tailored to automatically recognize best candidates for virtualization, so they imply some notable work in understanding collected performances and taking a decision.
Unfortunately at today no virtualization vendors is providing a free solution in this area.

Third step, actual migration, requires special tools which are able to integrate with virtualization platform you decided to adopt.
Luckily both VMware and Microsoft are offering a free solution for their own platforms.

VMware is offering since few months the free VMware Converter Starter Edition, which is able to convert any physical server, Microsoft virtual machines and Symantec and StorageCraft disk images, in a virtual machine suitable for any VMware virtualization platform.
It’s also able to migrate a physical server conversion while the machine is powered on, something usually called hot or live migration.

On its side Microsoft is offering since several years a free tool called Virtual Server Migration Toolkit (VSMT), able to convert a limited set of physical servers in virtual machines for Virtual Server platform.
The tool is pretty old, very complex to use and has some remarkable limitations, but it’s the only free option available at the moment for Microsoft platform.

Enterprise Management

After creating new virtual machines and migrating them from physical hosts, we definitively need tools to manage the infrastructure.

This can usually be done with management tools each virtualization platform offers.
Even free one described in previous part of this article comes with a basic administration console to perform most operations on virtual hardware and guest operating systems.

But if we want to manage multiple virtualization hosts at the same time, or performing complex operations like maintaining a library of virtual machines template, free of charge solution are harder to find.
At today most profit in virtualization market comes from management solutions so it’s normal no vendor is willing to release these tools for free.

Anyway big OEM vendors, providing virtualization platforms in bundle with their hardware, are making huge investments in this direction and are offering to their customers enterprise-grade management console for free.

The best example is provided by IBM, which offers for free since years Director to any customer buying its hardware.
Since a couple of years Director is also able to manage virtualization platforms, through a new module called Virtualization Manager which is free as well.
Last release of Virtualization Manager is even able to perform very complex tasks like P2V migrations, and virtualization hosts high availability.

High Availability

And exactly high availability is the next concern in any virtualization project.
Since each physical server is now hosting several virtual machines, continuous backup, fail-overing and clustering are mandatory requirements in each infrastructure.

In this area a special mention must be done for a solution not offered by a virtualization vendor or ISV.
VMBK.pl is a script created and maintained by a single prominent virtualization professional, Massimiliano Daneri, able to backup virtual machines hosted on VMware ESX Server.

The script, released completely free of charge under GPL license, is to perform live backups (copies of running virtual machines), to schedule operations and to select different kind of target locations, including NFS, SMB and FTP servers.

Patch Management

Patching of virtualization infrastructure is another critical task, which strictly depends on virtualization platform we decided to adopt.

If we decided for a so-called hosted solution, like VMware Server or Microsoft Virtual Server, then patch management should be addressed with tools for operating system we are using. But if we decide to go for a so called bare-metal solution, where host operating system has been replaced directly by hypervisor, then things become more complex.

A free solution in this area is another primer of Massimiliano Daneri, with its VMTS Patch Manager.
Like VMBK.pl also this second tool is released free of charge under GPL licence, and it’s able to automate patching operations on a VMware ESX Server, optimizing bandwidth consumption and interacting with VirtualCenter for architecture discovery.

This article originally appeared on SearchServerVirtualization.



blog comments powered by Disqus


virtualization.info Newest articles
Release: WinDocks 1.0

April 5th, 2016

Yesterday, Bellevue (WA) based company WinDocks, released version 1.0 of its homonymous Docker engine for Windows.
The company, founded by a small group of former Microsoft’s employees, rides Docker’s…

LANDesk Acquires AppSense

March 17th, 2016

LANDesk Software, founded in 1985 and headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah , provides systems management, security management, service management, asset management and process management solutions with a strong focus…

Release: Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.6

March 15th, 2016

Last week open source giant Red Hat announced the availability of version 3.6 of its KVM-based virtualization platform Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV).
While this new release provides the expected…

Docker acquires Conductant

March 4th, 2016

Yesterday Docker announced to have acquired a semi-stealth startup called Conductant, focused on workloads orchestration.

Both Conductant’s founders, Bill Farner and David Chung, have significant enterprise experience coming from…

Cisco acquires CliQr

March 1st, 2016

Today Cisco announced the intent to acquire CliQr Technologies Inc., a privately held company based in San Jose, CA.
CliQr is one of the most promising startups in the Cloud…

Release: VMware vCloud Suite 7 and vRealize Suite 7

February 11th, 2016

Yesterday VMware announced version 7 of both its vCloud and vRealize suites, confirming its efforts to be relevant in the CMPs (Cloud Management Platforms) space.
vRealize Suite 7 is made…

Platform9 adds Multi-Region & Multi-Hypervisor management into Managed OpenStack

February 11th, 2016

Platform9 solutions leverages a mix of SaaS and on premises Virtual Appliance to provide into supported environments capabilities typical of Cloud Management Platforms (CMPs) such self-service provisioning, monitoring, configuration…

VMware announces vRealize Log Insight 3.3

February 10th, 2016

Log Insight is a log aggregation, management and analisys tool, that VMware first introduced in 2013 and now is fiercely competing against Splunk.
Today the company announced Log Insight 3.3…

Microsoft releases Azure Stack TP1

February 1st, 2016

During Ignite 2015, back in September, Microsoft announced Microsoft Azure Stack as the building block for its hybrid cloud strategy.
What Microsoft is saying with this move is that, despite…

Release: Ansible 2.0

January 14th, 2016

Ansible is an IT automation tool especially popular within the developers’ community, thanks to its simplicity and agentless nature.
Three months away from its acquisition by Red Hat the company announced…

Nutanix goes Public

December 23rd, 2015

Nutanix is a provider of converged infrastructure, basically a physical server containing both compute and storage driven by an Installed Hypervisor of choice, this server, called a node can…

Release: VMware vRealize Automation 7 and VMware vRealize Business Standard 7

December 23rd, 2015

Last week VMware finally completed the first major update of VMware vRealize Suite, its well known cloud management solution, releasing in GA both vRealize Automation 7 and vRealize Business Standard…

WhatMatrix.com goes Live

December 15th, 2015

virtualization.info has been following Virtualization Matrix since its early steps and we recently wrote about its crowdsourced-powered heir: WhatMatrix.
Today we are happy to report that its community, formed…

Microsoft loves Red Hat: The business implications

November 18th, 2015

As you may have heard, Microsoft recently announced its “historical” partnership with Red Hat, something that a number of analysts already claimed as a milestone for both companies but especially for…

 
Monthly Archive