Virtually Speaking: Scaling the Physical-Virtual Divide

Amy Newman
As virtualized servers gain acceptance, integrating the physical and the virtual is becoming a key part of the management equation. Opsware and Egenera are two vendors that have stepped up to the task.

It may be too early for 2007 prognostications, but it's not a stretch to see that this week is a sign of what's to come.

On Monday, Egenera and Opsware announced software that enables server room admins to manage physical boxes and virtual servers as one. On Wednesday, app server vendor BEA revealed plans for a virtualized version of its popular WebLogic application server.

These are hardly the first vendors to cross the physical-virtual divide. Two weeks ago, in fact, IBM unveiled Virtualization Manager, a new IBM Director module that enables admins to manage the physical and virtual as a cohesive environment.

Management is frequently cited as biggest pain point in a virtualized infrastructure, and simplifying it will likely turn out to be the cash cow of the virtualization space. Add to that the near-ubiquitous acceptance of virtualization and its ease of use (one analyst was even quoted as saying, "virtualization is the server administrator's drug of choice"), and it stands to reason enterprises will opt for an ISV building a better mousetrap as opposed to one that is reinventing the wheel.

So what did Egenera and Opsware bring to the table this week?

For several years, Opsware has been known for helping server room admins keep server sprawl under control and enable them to manage boxes more easily. Monday's release of Opsware Virtualization Director launched a less tangible journey for Opsware. The new software is designed to manage the complete lifecycle of both physical and virtual servers.

This release supports Solaris Zones and VMware; future releases will support Xen and Microsoft Virtual Sever, Opsware Chief Technology Officer Tim Howes told ServerWatch.

Opsware Virtualization Director manages the entire virtual server lifecycle — from creating, securing and controlling virtual servers to discovering, visualizing and tracking dependencies between virtual and physical infrastructure elements and the applications they host. It can also standardize management across both physical and virtual servers running side-by-side in heterogeneous server rooms.

Opsware Virtualization Director is being positioned as ideal for large server environments, an area that server virtualization has been hard pressed to penetrate due to managerial challenges, Howes said. He cites July's survey from BMA, which reports that 76 percent of virtualization deployments are in environments with 500 or fewer servers.

Opsware is in the virtualization space for the long haul. Howes said three modules covering different parts of the data center are planned. The first will focus on servers. The next one will look at virtualized networks. The third will look at storage virtualization.

If you were hoping to squeeze Opsware Virtualization Director in under your 2006 budget, you'll be disappointed to hear that it isn't expected to be generally available until Opsware System 6 ships in first-quarter 2007.

On the upside, 2007 is a mere six weeks away.

Egenera customers will have new technology available to them in 2007 as well. This week, the vendor unveiled its vBlade management software, which will enable organizations to manage physical servers and virtual machines from a single tool.

VBlade is designed to be transparent to those who use it. It will install with Egenera's blade manager software, Processing Area Network (PAN) Manager, Susan Davis, vice president of marketing, told ServerWatch. Users will access it through PAN Manager, but it will be priced as a separate add-on to the Egenera BladeFrame system when it goes gold.

The software integrates hypervisor technology into PAN Manager, allowing admins to seamlessly configure, allocate, repurpose and manage the entire mix.

Initially, vBlade will incorporate XenSource's XenEnterprise from into Egenera PAN Manager software.

Egenera is no stranger to the virtualization space. Its PAN architecture follows a virtualization model by creating pools of computing, storage and network resources that can be easily shared and automatically repurposed.

vBlade takes this to a whole other level, as it allows admins to define pools of physical and virtual blades, and the deploy virtual servers on physical or virtual blades using the same processes. Deployments can take place anywhere on the PAN as well as on BladeFrame systems.

Those eager to get their hands on vBlade can obtain a free preview version at this time, Davis said.

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

This article was originally published on Nov 17, 2006
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