Virtualization Alternatives:

Parallels and Virtual Iron

By Jeff James

Perusing the headlines of recent articles about virtualization, you’d think that the industry involves only three players: Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix. Wait; scratch that last one—Citrix has lately been pulled into orbit around Microsoft and now seems content to support Microsoft’s efforts rather than compete with them.

      VMware has proven that ESX Server (and VMware Infrastructure 3—VI3) can rule the data center at Fortune 500 enterprises, but small IT shops can get indigestion from VMware’s often gulp-inducing deployment costs. Microsoft is hoping to make inroads in the small-to-midsized business (SMB) space with Hyper-V, but what if your company isn’t ready to make the jump to Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista? The former requires 64-bit hardware in order to run Hyper-V, and the latter might require a costly hardware client refresh. You obviously don’t need Vista on your client hardware to take advantage of Hyper-V, but why upgrade your servers if some low-cost virtualization solution can fit your needs?  

      If your yearly IT budget hovers in the low four- to five-figure range, don’t give up on virtualization yet. Thanks to affordable solutions from vendors such as Parallels and Virtual Iron Software, embracing virtualization doesn’t have to be a budget buster.

      Brian Haugli is the IT manager for Resolvit, an IT and management consulting firm. While looking for an economical way to virtualize some of his company's assets, Haugli tested virtualization producers from several vendors. “We did test XenServer, Microsoft Virtual Server, and VMware ESX Server. We realized that the majority of our infrastructure was running on Windows, so we \[looked at\] Parallels Virtuozzo Containers 3.51, an OS virtualization product,” says Haugli.

      Unlike hypervisor-based virtualization solutions such as Hyper-V and ESX Server, Virtuozzo Containers provides OS virtualization. Because only the OS is virtualized—not the underlying hardware—the footprint on the server is reduced. “The OS, when virtualized, is only 200MB…\[Virtuozzo Containers\] lets us get away with using fewer resources, from memory utilization to hard-disk space and CPU utilization,” says Haugli. By using OS virtualization, Haugli estimates that his department has managed to trim costs and cut expenses significantly. “When you add up all the savings on hardware costs, energy costs, and man-hours, we’ve saved a bundle—close to $100,000 in 2007 alone.” (Pricing for Virtuozzo Containers begins at $2,500 per dual CPU.)

      Haugli does wish that the template process Virtuozzo uses to create new virtual servers was more flexible, but that hasn’t stopped him from using virtualization in just about every aspect of his IT infrastructure. “All of our SQL databases are virtualized (other than one for BlackBerry support), as is SharePoint, HR software, and other applications.”

      Like Parallels, virtualization product provider Virtual Iron specializes in serving the needs of SMB IT departments. Whereas Parallels presents a unique alternative to hypervisor-based virtualization products, Virtual Iron competes directly with VI3 and Hyper-V and hopes to provide a competitive feature set at a vastly reduced cost.

      “We really think the release of Hyper-V will be a great awareness builder for us,” says Tony Assaro, chief strategy officer at Virtual Iron. Microsoft will undoubtedly spend lots of money educating the IT industry about the benefits of using Hyper-V for virtualization, and Assaro clearly sees benefits in riding Microsoft’s coattails. “It’s a rising tide, and we think that will help us. We have a competitive, full-blown solution that people can deploy now—not twelve to eighteen months from now.”

      Although the advent of Hyper-V might help Virtual Iron gain more attention for its products, the vendor is currently focusing most of its efforts on being a viable alternative to the VI3 product suite. Assaro believes that Virtual Iron 4.0 compares favorably to VI3 and offers features that Microsoft’s  Hyper-V solution currently lacks, such as support for live virtual machine (VM) migration and an integrated management capability. Microsoft will undoubtedly add those features in the future, but Virtual Iron is positioning itself to beat Microsoft to the punch by offering a competitive, low-cost alternative to VMware that's available and shipping now. Virtual Iron has a Virtual Iron vs. VI3 feature comparison chart on its website—a comparison that the vendor hopes will sway budget-conscious IT pros to consider its solution. Virtual Iron is priced at $799 per CPU socket, while VI3 tips the scales at a hefty $2,875 per CPU socket.

      “Our pricing, ease of use, and no-touch install process are big features for us,” says Assaro. “We provide the ability for organizations to meet all of their business continuity objectives now…with the ability to live-migrate VMs, support high availability demands, and provide intelligent, automated failover functionality, all at minimum level of \[system and cost\] requirements.” 

      With some estimates stating that roughly 7 percent of existing servers are taking advantage of virtualization technology, the industry still has lots of growth ahead. And with Parallels and Virtual Iron providing competitive, reasonably priced alternatives to more expensive offerings, it’s clear that just about every IT pro can find a virtualization solution that fits his or her needs without blowing the budget.

Virtualization News

By Jeff James

 

VMware News: Diane Greene Out as President and CEO; Replaced by Former Microsoft Exec

According to a statement issued by VMware Tuesday morning (July 8), VMware President and CEO Diane Greene has been replaced by Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft executive. Greene was one of the founders of VMware and helped lead the company to a dominant position in the virtualization market. In a recent interview with Windows IT Pro, Greene stressed that VMware was well positioned to face new challenges from Microsoft, which released the final version of its Hyper-V hypervisor-based virtualization technology late last month.

"Other companies are just coming out with an entry-level 1.0 product that is just basic virtualization," Greene said. "VMware gives our customers a complete portfolio to manage, to \[help them\] deploy their data center, while integrating the desktop and server."

 

Read the entire article here.

 

Embotics Unveils V-Commander 2.0

IT pros who have deployed virtualization solutions often find themselves being forced to manage the virtual sprawl that ensues. Embotics hopes to assist administrators in that task with the release of V-Commander 2.0, a product that provides lifecycle and administrative management for VMs. According to a news release from Embotics, the updated software includes enhanced reporting capabilities (including custom reports), improved policy options, and streamlined deployment and configuration. For more information about V-Commander 2.0, go to www.embotics.com.

 

VMware Completes B-hive Acquisition

VMware announced back in May that it would acquire B-hive Networks, a performance management software company with R&D facilities in Herzliya, Israel. VMware now sends word that it has completed the acquisition and will use B-hive’s products to “enhance the VMware portfolio of application and infrastructure management products by offering proactive performance management and service level reporting for applications running within virtual machines.” The move should help VMware bolster its virtual management, and will also give the company a new R&D office in Israel. For more information about the acquisition, go to www.vmware.com.

 

Virtualization Tips & Tricks:

Bringing iSCSI SAN and Virtualization Together

By Ed Roth

 

Sometimes it takes a few years for a technology to reach mass acceptance in the enterprise space. And to bring powerful tools within the reach of SMBs, you need to add another year or two of product advances and more aggressive pricing. Two technologies now becoming broadly accepted—iSCSI SANs and system virtualization—create an opportunity for forward-thinking IT organizations to improve or completely reinvent some long-standing processes involving system provisioning and data protection. Both technologies are within reach, and now is the time to learn the ins and outs of implementing iSCSI SANs and virtualization in your Windows environment and to understand some of the key synergies between SAN and virtualization technologies that will enable you to implement them to their full advantage.

 

Why iSCSI?

In a nutshell, iSCSI is a simple, powerful, and effective storage solution for SMBs, but without the price tag or learning curve of a Fibre Channel storage architecture. Because iSCSI arrays are connected through standard Ethernet, you can leverage your existing expertise and investment in that technology and—thanks to a higher level of vendor competition than you'll find among Fibre Channel hardware vendors—take advantage of reasonably priced gigabit-over-copper Ethernet switching. As iSCSI vendors target the SMB space, they’re developing tools to simplify setup, configuration, provisioning, and ongoing management of their hardware.

      iSCSI SANs offer a range of configurations and features that let IT organizations choose appropriately sized and equipped configurations, and most vendors typically permit relatively seamless expansion through the addition of modular hardware. In addition to traditional RAID configuration support, redundant, hot-swappable components (e.g., disks, control modules, fans, power supplies) can be specified for maximum data availability. Availability and load-balancing features—such as snapshots, replication, and Microsoft Multipath I/O (MPIO)—are available as standard or upgradeable options from most vendors.

      Most vendors offer solutions that use internal drives connected via Serial Attached SCSI, Serial ATA, or a combination of both technologies, giving IT organizations the latitude to tailor a storage environment to specific performance and reliability needs. By nature, SANs are shared storage, meaning that multiple systems can carve out their own piece of the overall capacity. This strategy yields a better utilization ratio than trying to right-size DAS on individual servers. Furthermore, thin provisioning—a storage-virtualization technique that most vendors use—lets you logically allocate more storage space to a volume without fully committing physical storage resources. As the data on the volume grows and more physical storage is actually needed, it’s automatically allocated. The result is more efficient use of your storage investment.

 

Why Virtualize?

Virtualization is all about driving down costs and maximizing the utilization of hardware resources. The insanity of adding a server for a single application is only exacerbated by the fast processors and large memory and disks in today’s standard servers. Virtualization technologies let you run multiple isolated systems on one piece of hardware. Consequently, not only do you get to actually use the CPU cycles available to you, but you also need to buy fewer servers, resulting in less rack space consumed and less reliance on other data-center resources such as cooling and power.

      Virtualization also provides for more flexible and nimble systems management. Because VMs aren’t tied to a specific piece of hardware, tasks related to provisioning, deployment, and configuration are much simpler and more quickly performed. Backup, maintenance, and migration operations are also simpler, thanks to the nature of a VM’s self-contained, portable system image and emulated hardware description.

 

Setting Up the Environment

Now, let’s dig into some of the specifics of how to configure these technologies in your environment and see how they can work together. To give this article some hands-on perspective, I built an environment specifically to test some virtualization and disaster-recovery scenarios. For my iSCSI SAN, I used a Dell EqualLogic PS5000X storage array, and I installed both Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 and VMware ESX Server 3.5 to create a combination of virtual server and client systems.

 

Read the rest of this article here.