The Sun virtualization strategy

Posted by Staff   |   Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Sun is the latest major player entering the virtualization space and challenging VMware after Microsoft, Virtual Iron, Novell, Red Hat, Citrix and Parallels. Anyway the company is in a unique position compared to all these competitors.

Sun in fact is able to provide the certified hardware (both servers and storage), two different virtualization platforms (both xVM Server and Solaris Containers), a management solution (Ops Center), and even a VDI connection broker (Sun VDI).
On top of that Sun has a partnership in place with Microsoft to grant interoperability and high performance for Windows virtual machines.

For all these reasons Sun entrance in the market is expected with much interested. met Steve Wilson, Vice President of xVM, asked ten questions about the overall Sun virtualization strategy and discovered some major news: During Jonathan Schwartz’s keynote at Oracle OpenWorld, Rich Green, EVP of Software of Sun Microsystems mentioned that xVM Server uses a Solaris kernel in lieu of the Linux-kernel that’s typically used in Xen-based hypervisors. What does this mean exactly? How does this change impact the hypervisor’s capabilities?

Steve Wilson: Every hypervisor has a control domain that manages the hardware and I/O interactions for the guest operating systems. Hypervisors based on the Xen open source project call this Dom0. For Sun xVM Server, we have inserted a number of datacenter-grade features borrowed from Solaris into the Control Domain that give xVM Server a set of highly unique attributes.
One example is Predictive Self Healing, which allows xVM Server to shield guest operating systems (including Windows, Linux and Solaris) from various types of hardware faults, such as CPU and memory failures. This can lead to dramatic improvements in availability. In addition, guest operating systems (including Windows and Linux) will be able to transparently access ZFS file systems. This opens up a number of interesting possibilities in I/O performance, snapshotting and backup, and even encryption and security.
Another example is the ability to leverage the new Crossbow I/O virtualization technologies to do bandwidth management between guests to ensure low priority guest tasks don’t hog all the bandwidth available through the host’s physical NIC.

VI: Which other customizations has Sun implemented around Xen in xVM Server?

SW: A key theme for us is interoperability. We’re adding the ability for xVM Server to run VM files created for VMware’s ESX Server or Microsoft’s Hyper-V without modification. We think this will be key to allowing customers to easily adopt our technologies.
Another key theme is management. xVM Server will include a very simple to use, web-based control application. However, for operating at scale, we have an additional product called xVM Ops Center. xVM Ops Center is designed to manage up to thousands of servers (physical and virtual). It includes a simple, but scalable user interface that enables a typical team of administrators to dramatically increase their efficiency in managing a datacenter.

VI: Xen is used as the foundation for several other virtualization platforms (i.e.: Citrix, Virtual Iron, Novell and Red Hat). How does xVM Server differ from these other implementations?

SW: Most customers aren’t concerned with whether a given solution is using a Xen hypervisor or not. Rather, they’re looking for the best solution, so I really view our competitors as everyone you mention, as well as VMware and Microsoft. However, even viewed against all these competitors, I think Sun brings a lot of unique value.
Sun xVM is a virtualization and management platform designed to run in the heart of the datacenter. With the unique capabilities of xVM Server and xVM Ops Center, customers will be able to see improvements in availability, scalability and manageability.
One other differentiator we shouldn’t overlook is the openness of Sun’s solution. Obviously, many players are particpating in the Xen open source community for technology around the hypervisor. However, most of the other players are keeping their management solutions closed, and that threatens to lock in customers. Sun has committed to making xVM Ops Center available freely under the very liberal Gnu Public License (GPL) version 3. Customers like this openness, and partners are particularly excited about the potential for them to get really involved in the development and future direction of the product line. We’re now focused on ramping up the activity around the source code base.

VI: One of the major shortcomings of current virtualization platforms is the lack of native clustering/failover capabilities at the host level. What is Sun’s answer to this problem? Will xVM Server come with its own HA technology? Will xVM Server support open source native clustering/failover capabilities or will Sun wait for 3rd party commercial products?

SW: Sun already has one of the most popular and mature clustering offerings in the market in Solaris Cluster. We’re planning to provide the ability to use Solaris Cluster together with xVM Server for applications where true clustering is required. The integration of Sun Cluster and xVM is an open source project, and we haven’t announced commercial availability of this yet, but interested parties can get involved by going here.

VI: Another growing issue has to do with the patch management strategy for hypervisors. How does xVM Server address patch management?

SW: The way we see it, there are actually two issues: patch management for the hypervisor and patch management for the guest operating systems. Both of these are key issues. For small installations, xVM Server includes a simple to use, self-patching system that can automatically download and install the newest patches. We will even leverage ZFS to automatically snapshot the host hypervisor before it patches itself for easy, automatic rollback if there are any problems with the patched hypervisor.
However, I think the more interesting problem is the patching and updating of guest operating systems and their associated applications. In 2006, Sun acquired a small company called Aduva that specialized in patching and updating. The updating technology from Aduva has been integrated into the Sun Connection product that is now used by about 200 of Sun’s top customers to patch and update up to 3,000 servers at a given customer.
That Aduva technology is now also part of xVM Ops Center, and it gives us the ability to do sophisticated software lifecycle management that includes patch simulation and rollback, automation and scheduling, compliance reporting.
Ops Center 1.0 includes support for patching of Solaris (x86 and SPARC) as well as several versions of Redhat and SuSE linux. Windows patching support will be added in a future revision. We view this area as a place where we can bring customers a huge amount of value.

VI: Will you integrate xVM Server with the recently released Sun VDI? If so, when we should we expect such integration?

SW: Yes. Stay tuned for more information on plans in this area.

VI: Which kind of virtualization-specific operations will be available with the first version of xVM Ops Center? Can we expect things like virtual machines live backup, live migrations (what VMware calls VMotion), automated provisioning, and/or other features?

SW: The first commercial release of xVM Ops Center will ship in the next few weeks – actually ahead of the first commercial release of xVM Server. xVM Ops Center 1.0 is focused on datacenter automation and includes features such as:

  • Server discovery and inventory management
  • Server firmware analysis and provisioning
  • Bare metal Server provisioning
  • Patch management
  • Monitoring

We’re planning the first commercial release of xVM Server, and an update to xVM Ops Center to go with it, for Q2 of calendar year 2008. In that release, we’ll be adding a number of specific features to manage virtualized environments, including:

  • Full virtual guest lifecycle management
  • Management of the domain 0 instance
  • Monitoring, management and provisioning of Windows, Linux and Solaris guests
  • Migration capabilities (Live, Regular and Cold)
  • Simple single host management through direct browser access, as well as large scale multi-node management via xVM Ops Center
  • Expansive resource monitoring and analysis
  • Guest image storage library management
  • Virtual and resource pooling
  • Network virtualization and bandwidth management

VI: xVM Ops Center integrates the open source library libvirt which allows cross-platform virtualization management. Will you provide additional APIs for integration with those management products which already handle multiple hypervisors but don’t implement libvirt?

SW: Both xVM Server and xVM Ops Center will expose API sets through WS-Management. We’ll be putting specs out for this over at shortly.

VI: Which kind of benefits will customers experience from the Sun partnerships with Microsoft and Red Hat? Can we expect better performances for Windows virtual machines? What else?

SW: While we are doing a number of things to ensure best-of-breed performance for Windows with xVM Server, it isn’t the focus of our partnerships with Microsoft and Red Hat. Our partnerships with these vendors were put in place to ensure that customers will see maximum compatibility in a totally supported environment. Customers shouldn’t have to worry if their applications are supported in a given virtual environment. By ensuring this type of rigorous cross-certification, we can ensure that customers are fully supported by both Sun, and their operating system vendor of choice (be that Sun, Microsoft or Red Hat).

VI: How do you plan to migrate virtual machines from 3rd party hypervisors to xVM Server? Can we expect a P2V/V2V migration tool?

SW: We’ve decided to avoid creating any new file formats for virtual machines, and instead will be directly supporting the native formats of both VMware’s ESX Server and Microsoft’s Hyper-V. If you have VMs today, they should run unmodified inside xVM Server.