Software // Enterprise Applications
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1/30/2008
06:00 PM
Andy Dornan
Andy Dornan
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SOA's Perfect Mate?

Virtualization 2.0 will go beyond server consolidation, making applications more agile and scalable to fit a service-oriented architecture.

THE SUPERFLUOUS OS

BEA doesn't sell a hypervisor, but so far it's taken app server virtualization the furthest with its WebLogic Server Virtual Edition (WLS-VE). Although BEA's impending acquisition by Oracle means plans are likely to change, WebLogic fills an important gap in Oracle's product line and was a major motivation for the acquisition. WLS-VE can run directly on top of VMware, with no need for an operating system at all. The theory is that because Java apps already run in a Java VM, the OS is largely superfluous. The hypervisor includes lower-level OS functionality such as device drivers, while BEA has added higher-level functions such as I/O and file storage into a new version of the JRockit Java VM that it calls LiquidVM.

BEA says that cutting out the operating system can boost performance by up to 50% by saving on system resources. However, the company couldn't put us in touch with any customer that might verify its claims, and competitors point out that system resources, including CPU power, memory, and disk, are relatively cheap and getting cheaper all the time. The real benefits ought to be in management, as removing the OS should simplify the creation and movement of Java apps while making it easier to create a management system that has a full view, from hypervisor to app layer.

Unfortunately, claims of simplified management are hard to quantify because BEA's Liquid Operations Control, or LOC, management software hasn't yet shipped. Originally scheduled for the third quarter of last year, it's now due by March. At present, the management software that controls outside applications also controls apps within LiquidVM, while VMware handles the virtual machines. "Management frameworks are basically alarm generators," says Guy Churchward, VP and general manager of WebLogic products at BEA. "If something crosses a threshold, it notifies an administrator. There's no feedback loop."

LOC is intended to change that by giving LiquidVM a dedicated platform that can start and stop both VMs and the processes within them, as well as keep track of which applications are running where. Because LiquidVM will coexist with other Java servers, it's also intended to control applications on physical servers that support the Java Management Extensions spec and, perhaps most important, map service dependencies, knowing that increased use of a service in one VM may require increased resources dedicated to others.

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Most service-oriented architectures keep track of application requirements and dependencies through the registry, an XML database included in SOA governance software. Though BEA sells a SOA governance product, Liquid Operations Control can't yet retrieve information from it. Administrators need to input parameters about different services' requirements and dependencies, which could duplicate some work. BEA says it's looking at integration with its registry product, which is based on technology licensed from HP Systinet, though as yet no firm plans have been announced. Hewlett-Packard last week expanded its Governance Interoperability Framework program, which aims to forge better links between Systinet and other vendors' products, but so far these are only in the SOA and enterprise Web 2.0 space.

LOC can act on information provided by AmberPoint's SOA management software, which BEA resells through an OEM agreement. However, the AmberPoint alliance is unlikely to survive BEA's takeover by Oracle, as Oracle has its own management product, Oracle Enterprise Manager. LOC will likely be integrated with this.

The LiquidVM platform fills an important hole in Oracle's portfolio, giving Oracle a way to compete head-on with OS vendors. BEA's plan is to extend LiquidVM to its other applications, with editions of its WebLogic Portal and AquaLogic Service Bus shipping without operating systems at the same time as Liquid Operations Control. The acquisition likely means that LiquidVM will be used for virtual editions of Oracle's products, too.

At present, LiquidVM works only with VMware, but BEA says it plans to support Xen with a new release at the same time as LOC ships, and Hyper-V later in 2008. Oracle released a Xen-based virtualization product in November, so making LiquidVM work with Xen could be a top priority. Tying the two together exclusively, however, would negate one of LiquidVM's greatest selling points--that it can work with VMware, still by far the most popular hypervisor.

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