Virtually Speaking: Sun's Virtual Expansion

Amy Newman
The arrival of Logical Domains and support for Xen in Solaris 10 topped the list of virtualization capabilities Sun announced this week.

Say "virtual environment" and it's doubtful Sun Microsystems or Sun Solaris is what springs to mind. Yet virtualization is a key component of Solaris 10, and is no doubt one of the key reasons Solaris downloads are closing in on the 6 million mark.

John Fowler, Sun's executive vice president, systems group, clearly understands the importance of the technology. In a statement issued Tuesday, he noted, "Virtualization is a layer of lubrication that unifies previously siloed areas of computing."

Sun is, in fact, lubing up the data center through its operating system. Fowler said, "Solaris is the foundation of our approach, and we build on it with Sun servers, storage, services, and partner services as well."

This week, Sun made a announced enhancements to its virtualization strategy with the aim of doing precisely that.

Enterprises running the Solaris 10 operating system have a variety of new virtualization options at their disposal. The biggest news is, of course, that Logical Domains, or LDoms, have finally arrived.

This homegrown virtualization environment is specific to UltraSPARC T1 servers, so at this point, it's limited to the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers. With LDoms, enterprises can run up to 32 virtual environments on a single server, Larry Wake, group manager of Solaris OS Marketing, told ServerWatch. Each of those partitions can then be divided further into Containers.

Up to 500 Containers can run on a single instance, though Wake admitted that such a scenario would be unlikely in a real-world deployment. It does, however, demonstrate the server's granularity.

Solaris' Container feature, which delivers essentially application-level virtualization, is a common denominator, between its SPARC and UtraSPARC span systems, Wake said.

Solaris 10 11/06, the next build of the operating system, will be released at the end of November. The version will include new capabilities for Containers. Admins will be able to clone a Container as well as relocate it to another box, through a feature called Attach/Detach, Wake said.

It wasn't just UltraSPARC T1 boxes that got a feature bump this week: x86 environments also received a virtual boost in the flurry of announcements.

In 2007, the systems vendor will offer full support for Xen functionality, this time in the form of a Solaris 10-based Xen hypervisor. Enterprises will be able to run concurrent Solaris 10, Linux and Microsoft Windows operating systems as "guests" on a Solaris 10-based virtual machine, and will be able to reap the benefits of Solaris 10, regardless of the operating system running.

Enterprises that can't wait long or want to get their feet wet will find the code on OpenSolaris.

Enterprises looking for a more production-ready x86 virtualization option, will need to be content with increased VMware support, however. Sun Fire x4600 and Sun Blade modular systems can now run VMware ESX 3.0.1.

Sun's remaining three enhancements, though equally touted, were more gravy than meat. The Sun Fire X4000 Galaxy servers have been upgraded with Rev F Opteron, AMD's next-gen Opteron processor and Solaris 10 Operating System.

Sun also announced Solution Customer Workshops, two-day sessions that aim to match customers' needs to Sun technology and determine an appropriate deployment plan. Sun estimates the value of these session as close to $10,000. Presumably, the revenue the systems vendor stands to bring in from the sale will exceed the $10,000 it invested in what is ostensibly a sales pitch.

Finally, Sun introduced the Life Cycle Services for Virtualization program consulting — education and support services to help architect, implement and manage customers' virtualization solutions.

All of this ties into Sun's championing of the energy efficient data center of late. Although that's not the only reason to go virtual, it certainly is a huge bonus. Especially when the servers you're consolidating on are more efficient to start with. In addition, Sun's feature integration between standard and nonstandard architectures is actionable-based recognition that heterogeneous server rooms are here to stay.

More details on Sun's virtualization efforts can be found, here.

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

This article was originally published on Oct 20, 2006
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