Virtually Speaking: UltraSPARC Options Open Up

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jan 5, 2007


Amy Newman
SWsoft's OpenVZ project offers UltraSPARC T1 users a new way to virtualize. Will it separate the company from the rest of the x86 herd?

Backing an open source community is one way for enterprises to build support for a very commercial product. If well-executed, everyone stands to gain. Power users get a chance to muck with the code and enterprises get to test drive a product without making a major investment. The ISV, in return, gets free testing and development as well as a pool of potential users.

Offering an open source version in the form of a community is a well-accepted tactic adopted by a multitude of vendors, from Sun to Centeris to Zimbra and countless others.

In the virtualization space, one vendor that hopes to grow its footprint through an open source community is SWsoft, an ISV that had the auspicious honor of being cited by both Gartner and IDC as a virtualization vendor to watch.

This week, SWsoft reached beyond the crowded x86 virtualization comfort zone to UltraSPARC shops through its OpenVZ open source project. The open source virtualization software is now available for servers running Sun's UltraSPARC T1 CoolThreads processor.

The OpenVZ project is the basis for Virtuozzo, SWsoft's flagship solution.

Like products from SWsoft's competitors, VMware and Virtual Iron, Virtuozzo virtualizes at the operating system level. Its traditional stronghold has been in the hosting space, but it now sells solutions aimed at both enterprises and hosting service providers.

Like Virtuozzo, OpenVZ creates isolated, secure virtual environments.

Unlike its commercial counterpart, OpenVZ's mission is to provide access to the code and enable the community behind it to test, develop and further the OS virtualization effort. It also functions as a sort of proving ground for new technology that may eventually find its ways into Virtuozzo.

The Linux-based project went into production in late 2005. It claims an active user community, as evidenced by more than 8,000 message posts on its support forum.

Like its rivals, OpenVZ supports x86-, x86_64-, IA64- and POWER-based servers.

And now UltraSPARC T1 boxes can join the party, providing UltraSPARC users with a virtualization option outside of Solaris.

Kir Kolyshkin, manager of the OpenVZ project, noted, in a prepared statement, that porting OpenVZ software to the UltraSPARC T1 processor was a simple procedure, since 95 percent of the code is platform-independent.

"Initially, I was very pleased to hear that the platform independence was not compromised with the OpenVZ patch to the kernel source," said Kinney. "Seeing how quickly the software was ported for SPARC has certainly made me a believer."

Using OpenVZ, SPARC system users can provision physical servers to run applications on virtual servers. The OpenVZ project makes available templates that allow for almost instant (in many cases about a minute) virtual-server provisioning.

The OpenVZ software, including UltraSPARC T1 support, is available for download now.

Installation instructions as well as documentation and a knowledge base is posted on the OpenVZ wiki.

There is one caveat with all of this that may be a deal breaker for many enterprises. It is OpenVZ, not Virtuozzo, that runs on UltraSPARC T1 at this time. That means enterprises that opt for it will be running software deemed not quite ready for prime time. In a test environment or a bleeding-edge organization, this may be a worthy pursuit. Mission-critical apps or high-availability systems are another matter entirely.

The x86 space is quickly becoming saturated with virtualization options. Should SWsoft deem its OpenVZ UltraSPARC offerings Virtuozzo-worthy, it may find an easy path from the comfort zone to the end zone — assuming the competition doesn't get there first.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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