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August 11, 2005

VMware, Sun Microsystems partner on server partitioning

Server maker Sun Microsystems Inc and virtualization software expert VMware Inc have announced a partnership that will see the two companies sell and support each other's products.

By CBR Staff Writer

While VMware’s Workstation virtualization for X86-based PCs and workstations and its GSX Server and ESX Server partitioning software for servers have ran Solaris variants for the X86 and X64 platforms – there isn’t really a way to prevent it – there was, however, no official support from either VMware or Sun.

Without support from either vendors, corporate data centers are understandably loathe to take a risk on something so central as an operating system or a virtual machine partitioning environment that supports those operating systems.

But, says Graham Lovell, senior director of X64 server marketing at Sun, with Sun making headway in the X64 server market and many of Sun’s customers (particularly in the financial services sector) having already standardized on VMware’s virtualization products, the two had to formalize support – even though Sun offers an alternative virtual machine technology called Solaris containers.

The reality out there in data center land is that customers have mixed environments with Windows, Linux, and now Solaris all co-existing not only in the data center, but often on the same X64 servers. With the VMware agreement, now all three platforms can be supported on a single workstation or server, if need be, as well as NetWare and a number of other minor platforms that VMware’s virtual machine partitioning software supports; a total of 60 different type, version, and release levels of X86 operating systems are supported. To date, VMware has sold the server variants of its partitioning software to over 10,000 customers, and is the clear market leader in such technology.

With this agreement, Sun will be able to sell GSX Server, which puts multiple guest operating systems inside a host operating system, and ESX Server, which puts a hypervisor down on bare-metal iron and creates VMs that support multiple operating systems side-by-side on the same server.

GSX Server is less expensive, but ESX Server does not have a single operating system as a point of failure and does have a bunch of other goodies, such as VirtualSMP to have a partition span from 1 to 4 processors and VMotion, which allows a running partition to be bounced from one server to another.

GSX Server has been certified to run Solaris 10 as a guest operating system and it is in the process of being qualified as a host platform. Solaris 8 had an X86 version and will technically run on either GSX Server or ESX Server, but this is not something Sun is expecting customers to do. Sun has certified these programs to run on its Opteron-based V20z and V40z servers, but any machines that have been certified to run the VMware software will technically support Solaris 10.

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And, Lovell points out, all of the neat features such as DTrace, predictive self-healing, and containers as well as the future Janus Linux environment for Solaris 10 will all run within a VMware partition. (So, for instance, you can run a bunch of Solaris containers inside a bunch of VMware VMs, if that floats your boat.)

The one interesting limit of the VMware software is that the virtual chipset and memory controller at the heart of the hypervisors used to make the VMs is a 32-bit implementation at this point. This is not a big deal on a machine that has four or fewer processors, but it will become a big deal when trying to create a partition that spans more than four processors; generally, such machines require more main memory, and that means 64-bit memory support if you want balanced performance.

As part of the deal between Sun and VMware, Sun can resell any and all of VMware’s software, and is able to resell VMware’s services as well. And VMware will be packaging Solaris 10 in the pre-configured, shrink-wrap virtual machines that the company launched a few months ago.

Sun has been in the midst of updating its N1 Service Provisioning System, which does bare-metal provisioning, and its N1 System Manager, which managers the servers once they are provisioned, to provision and manage Solaris containers as well as virtual machine partitions based on the open source Xen partitioning hypervisor. This software is in a prototype right now, and it is likely that it will be extended to support the provisioning and management of VMware VMs as well.

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