Virtually Speaking: The 'Other' Open Source Virtualization Option

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jan 8, 2008


Amy Newman

The Xen hypervisor may be the poster child for open source virtualization, but it's not the only option. Since its launch in late 2005, the SWsoft-backed OpenVZ project has been gradually growing its presence.

SWsoft's OpenVZ project is expanding its reach with support for Ubuntu Linux 7.10.

This week, OpenVZ set out to expand its reach by adding support for Ubuntu Linux 7.10.

The same technology that powers SWsoft's flagship offering, Virtuozzo, also powers OpenVZ. OpenVZ provides users with access to the code, and in turn anticipates an open source community will grow around the product and contribute to the testing, support and development of the Linux-based virtualization effort.

Like the typical enterprise-backed open source project, technology introduced in Open VZ is intended to find its way into the enterprise-grade offering, in this case Virtuozzo. SWsoft elected to virtualize at the operating system level, which means that virtual environments (VEs) as opposed to virtual machines (VMs) are created. SWsoft also refers to VEs as virtual private servers (VPS).

Like VMs, VEs perform and execute like stand-alone servers. VEs can be rebooted independently and have the same components — root access, users, IP addresses, memory, processes, files, applications, system libraries and configuration files. Where they differ is in the power of the operating system. In a VM, the OS is chosen at the VM level. In a VE, it's chosen for the entire system.

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Much like Virtuozzo, OpenVZ remains a niche offering. No doubt it gained some street cred with open source fans this week, however, with its release of virtual appliance software for Ubuntu. Users can now run Ubuntu 7.10 in a Linux container when using OpenVZ.

The software template is available for immediate download and has a relatively simple install, according to SWsoft.

Ubuntu has become a media darling of sorts in recent months, as support (both hardware and software) and press coverage have ramped up in near lock step.

Will it matter for OpenVZ and, by extension, SWsoft? Strategy-wise, probably not as much as SWsoft's planned name change to Parallels, the Mac-based virtualization offering it acquired back in 2004, and whose brand remains better known than SWsoft's.

SWsoft like so many ISVs before it has figured out that it stands to benefit from the ostensibly free labor community members can bring to the table.

Many ISVs learned this during the open source zeitgeist earlier this decade. Nurturing a crop of tech-savvy users by giving them a place to hash out their issues — whether it be bugs or missing features — is theoretically easier and less expensive than building it yourself.

Or so the theory goes.

The obvious risk is that users won't come or that those that do won't have the skills and motivation to improve the product and the undertaking will flounder.

The OpenVZ project has been around for more than two years, and although its community is nowhere the size of Xen's (it claims 25,000 message posts on its support forum and tens of thousands of monthly visitors), it is a going concern. The forums are active and development continues.

OpenVZ software includes user tools to help automate of virtual server management. Support is available for free and at cost.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been writing about virtualization since 2001.

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