Feb 19 2008

Virtual Leaps

The latest enhancements to virtualization tools can help boost management, disaster recovery and performance for virtual environments.

As agencies begin to reap the consolidation benefits of virtualizing their server environments, a new wave of capabilities available now or soon to be released can enhance and manage virtualization implementations.

These new management, data protection and migration tools will let systems administrators take better advantage of virtual environments. A chief change for agencies in the technology arriving now is the integration of virtualization applications into hardware platforms, which speeds deployment, reduces integration work, makes cross-enterprise management possible with fewer revisions to existing applications, and allows on-the-fly data relocation and hosting.

The government has intense interest in the ability to scale virtualization for large organizations. The development of tools to better manage data centers and service-oriented architectures automatically is a major step toward that end, according to Dr. Jose Fortes, director of the National Science Foundation Center for Autonomic Computing (CAC) at the University of Florida (www.nsfcac.org).

Bettter Usage

To reduce downtime of major systems through fail-over to other partitions or virtual machines, virtualized environments need to have more self-management capabilities. That’s one of the research areas for the new center, which opened its doors in January. How well new tools on the market can meet those needs is the question, Fortes notes, adding that finding ways government, academia and industry can work together to advance the technology is the objective.

As product development teams continue to evolve the technology, a trio of developments spans the virtualization turf:

  • VMware is at work on a hypervisor that will be built into server hardware. It also plans disaster recovery automation software, a new version of its VMware Infrastructure and a new version of its free virtualization software.
  • IBM is developing enhanced partitioning capability for its System p servers that includes the ability to move partitions from one physical server to another, and to share capacity and resources among virtual partitions.
  • Microsoft has rolled out System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 and will include Hyper-V virtualization software in its Windows Server 2008 release.

Fortes sees these products as “examples of tools that greatly facilitate system administrators’ tasks and can also be controlled by other software that, if properly conceived, could turn the vision of largely self-managed IT systems into reality.” This, he points out, is an objective of the center, which already includes IBM and Microsoft among its founding members and has a developing relationship with VMware. The center seeks to add new founding members through collaborative partnerships with both industry and government organizations.

Reining in Virtual Machines

The VMware ESX Server 3i hypervisor will be built into x86-based servers from Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other server manufacturers. With VMware ESX Server integrated directly into server hardware, “users will be able to turn on their virtualization-enabled servers and boot directly into a fully functioning hyper­visor,” simplifying the deployment of virtual machines, says Raghu Raghuram, vice president of products and solutions at VMware. He expects agencies will be more likely to take advantage of virtualization as part of typical data systems management as multicore systems become more common.

VMware also has introduced Site Recovery Manager, which lets IT shops automate the recovery of information stored on virtual machines and eliminate the manual — and failure-prone — recovery of data from remote or local disaster recovery sites.

“Site Recovery Manager allows you to build scripts to automate the recovery process,” says Ben Edson, president and chief technology officer of VariQ, a professional services provider for federal, state and local government agencies. “Not only does it do the transition in bringing up the remote site, it also integrates with storage area networking technology, such as mirroring.”

New IBM virtualization capabilties will let users divide pSeries server cores into as many as 10 partitions.

Edson says agencies could benefit from Site Recovery Manager. For instance, it’s common for agencies to have their primary storage area networks in read/write mode and their secondary SANs in write-only mode, says Edson. For continuity of operations, “that secondary site becomes read/write mode. But it’s a manual process to make the cut, and it creates that secondary site in read/write mode. Site Recovery Manager allows you to automate those processes.”

VMware also has added a new management interface to VMware Server2; expanded support for Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and Ubuntu; and added support for additional memory and USB 2.0 drives.

And finally, Storage VMotion, a feature in VMware Infrastructure 3. 5, allows the migration of virtual machine disk files from one datastore to another without interruption of other operations.

Parceling Server Real Estate

IBM has developed a new partitioning program for its System p servers. With Live Partition Mobility, IT can create virtual servers on a single System p server and then move AIX or Linux partitions from one server to another without disrupting operations. The migration enabled by Live Partition Mobility transfers the operating system environment, processor state, memory, attached devices and connected users. IT can automate Live Partition Mobility with scripts, system tools and wizards.

The company also introduced Advance Power Virtualization (APV) for Power servers. APV includes IBM’s Micro-Partitioning and Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) capabilities, which let IT partition a processor in increments as small as one-tenth of the processor.

Two other new features for servers built on the Power6 chip include shared dedicated capacity and multiple shared processor pools. The shared dedicated capacity will let IT donate unused CPU cycles to a pool of system resources. IT can then set the servers to allocate these CPU cycles to partitions that need them, then reallocate the cycles to the pool once processing ceases. Multiple shared processor pools allow for automatic balancing of processing power among all virtual partitions assigned to shared pools.

Read about FedTech’s "Closer Look" under the hood of Hyper-V.

Microsoft Joins the Fray

Finally, Microsoft has begun the build-up to its release of a virtualization hypervisor, Hyper-V. In its initial outing, Hyper-V will be a feature component of the new Windows Server 2008, scheduled to ship before March. Around midyear, the company intends to issue a standalone version that can run with other operating systems, priced at $28 per physical server.

Hyper-V will ship with three versions of Windows Server 2008: Standard, which will let users create one virtual server per license; Enterprise, which will allow four virtual machines per license; and Datacenter, which will allow an unlimited number of virtual machines per license.

In December, Microsoft announced that it would ship Hyper-V early. The company unveiled a revamped beta of Hyper-V, which it expects to release to manufacturing soon. According to Bill Laing, general manager of the Windows Server Division at Microsoft, “Delivering the high-quality Hyper-V beta earlier than expected allows our customers and partners to begin evaluating this feature of Windows Server 2008 and provide us with valuable feedback as we march toward final release.”