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3/19/2009
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Joe Hernick
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Rolling Review: Parallels Server For Mac 3.0 And Virtual Iron Extended Enterprise Edition 4.5

Two SMB server virtualization options show it pays to look beyond the 'Big 3.'

Find Your VI-Center
We built our Virtual Iron environment in an SMB frame of mind, and encountered no snags. Installation is simple; no archive file or boot disks here--Virtual Iron relies on VI-Center, a Java-based central management and network distribution tool, to get things moving.

The console can be installed on any Windows Server (2003 is recommended) or Linux host. No fancy hardware is required, so this is a great use for a repurposed older server. We installed VI-Center GUI on Windows 2003 and 2008 servers. After turning off 2008's security nannies and downloading the latest Java runtimes, we were ready to virtualize in about 10 minutes.

The last time we ran VI-Center through the lab (in its version 3.1 days), Fibre Channel was the only way to build a storage area network. Support for iSCSI is a welcome addition in Virtual Iron 4.5.

On startup, all hosts show up in the VI-Center graphical user interface as available hardware resources. The VI-Center server makes short work of configuring networks, network interface cards, local and iSCSI disk groups, SANs, and virtual NICs. Windows admins who are virtual machinery rookies can walk step by step through Virtual Iron's sidebar tutorial, all the way through building and assigning VMs to hosts.

Console views worked just fine in tests, although Linux control wasn't as smooth as Windows guest windows in our tests. Guest performance was more than satisfactory, however--we'll present performance results in our Rolling Review wrap-up later this spring.

Virtual Iron calls its live migration of VMs LiveMigrate. LiveMigrate touts hardware independence, but according to the manual, make sure you go Intel-to-Intel or AMD-to-AMD when migrating. VI-Center does a good job of vetting the target host to ensure that memory, processor, and access permissions to the resource pool are all in place before allowing a move. It therefore can save you from bad decisions by simply not permitting a forced move to a host running at full capacity.

Like VMware, Virtual Iron prices per socket, delivering more bang for the buck with quad-core over dual-core chipsets. Of course, $799 per socket is significantly less than VMware ESX pricing, especially since Virtual Iron is following Citrix's model of bundled management tools. In terms of list price, going with Virtual Iron instead of VMware yields savings of 50% or more.

Physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual conversions happen thanks to partner PlateSpin. The included bundle grants six conversions per socket license, which should take care of most consolidation scenarios. Additional conversion licenses can be purchased from PlateSpin.

Our Take
PARALLELS SERVER FOR MAC 3.0 AND VIRTUAL IRON 4.5
Small and midsize businesses looking for an easy, economical path to virtualization, or Mac shops hoping to dump Windows hardware, will find that Virtual Iron and Parallels Server, respectively, fit the bill nicely.
Parallels Server enables Mac OS X server virtualization without breaking any of Apple's rules. It hasn't received the same attention to detail as Parallels Desktop, though, and it shows.
Virtual Iron could go head-to-head with VMware in the data center, but it's building its base from below with an easy-to-administer product at a very aggressive price.

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