Virtually Speaking: Egenera Slices Thinner
Perhaps the most tangible aspect of the virtualization wave is the hardware. In the x86 space, hardware is frequently commodity in nature and often overlooked in favor of software, which is doing the lion share of the work and is where the bulk of differentiations lies.
Egenera is an exception to this. Its hardware, BladeFrame, is anything but commodity, and the software that controls it goes hand-in-hand. BladeFrame is a server blade system predicated around its Processing Area Network (PAN) architecture, which relies on a virtualization paradigm.
Virtualization has been seen as very compatible with blades for some time now. The architecture of a server blade system is well-suited for many virtualization pain points. Moving a virtual server from blade to blade, for example, is easily done whether failover or workload is the cause.
Egenera saw this synergy early on and designed its product's architecture on it. PAN Manager, the software behind the PAN architecture, bypasses hardware infrastructure in favor of software-driven integrated automation.
From the outset, the PAN architecture has been considered unique and one of BladeFrame's key selling points. PAN combines stateless, diskless processing blades a model whose differentiator boils down to PAN Manager, the software behind.
This week, PAN Manager got a virtual extension vBlade. Initially announced in November 2006, vBlade Software, began shipping on Monday. vBlade, as its name implies, enables blades to be go virtual and be partitioned into virtual machines.
vBlade is a virtual "slice" of an Egenera Processing Blade (pBlade) module running a hypervisor within the Egenera BladeFrame system. A virtual server (pServer) is created in Egenera PAN Manager software by combining a logical server definition with virtual processing resources.
In other words, vBlades are user-defined partitions of a physical blade that enable multiple virtual machines to sit on a single physical server and be managed though PAN Manager. Regardless of whether the server is an entire blade or a virtual machine, all servers in the BladeFrame system are configured, allocated, repurposed and managed the same through the same interface.
In addition, rather than tie specific operating systems and applications to a server, PAN Manager creates pools of compute, storage and network resources that can be dynamically allocated.
vBlade software is available immediately and is priced as a separate add-on to the Egenera BladeFrame system. Although this initial implementation relies on XenEnterprise, future versions of vBlade will integrate other hypervisors into PAN Manager.
Egenera cut its blade teeth early in the financial services space in part because Goldman Sachs was one of the first customers and a big backer. This turned out to be fortuitous, as financial services firms are often on the cutting edge of technology adoption so long as the technology delivers the speed and accuracy its applications warrant and Egenera was leading-edge on two fronts, virtualization and server blades.
Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization technology since 2001.