Instant Servers Via Virtualization - InformationWeek

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7/14/2005
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Instant Servers Via Virtualization

The Levanta Intrepid M provisions Linux servers without the need to load the operating system or applications onto each server

As demand grows for Linux as a data-center workhorse, tech vendors are developing more sophisticated ways to quickly bring up new Linux servers without the need to invest in additional boxes or software. Systems administrators already can do this using tools from EMC Corp.'s VMware unit or XenSource Inc., but a new network appliance from Levanta Inc. promises to take these virtualization capabilities to the next level.

The Levanta Intrepid M, available this month, acts as hub for provisioning Linux servers without the need to load the operating system or applications directly onto each server. Instead, the Intrepid M uses its MapFS file system to store the server operating system and any applications on the appliance, which features 1.4 terabytes of disk space. When newly provisioned servers are ready to boot, they access the Intrepid over the network.

Levanta's appliance is different from other provisioning tools that are either script- or image-based and only allow servers to be created one at a time, Illuminata research analyst Thomas Deane says. Using the Intrepid, Levanta keeps the binaries in one repository on the network, and all the systems talk to that one repository. "When you want to make a change, you only have to make it in one place," he says.

Boscov's LLC, an East Coast department store chain, has been running Levanta management and provisioning software on its main- frame and x86-based servers for years. Since April, Boscov's has been testing the Intrepid M.

Once the Linux operating system is loaded onto the appliance, a number of physical servers can access the operating system and boot over the network, says Robert Schwartz, a Boscov's systems programmer. "This centralizes server administration and is particularly useful when distributing software patches."

Rapid provisioning of Linux could have great implications for creating grid and on-demand computing environments that shift computing power to match the network's workload. "You're not copying bits, you're pointing a server at the operating system," Deane says. "This lends itself to grid and on-demand computing and would also work well for managing desktop environments."

Levanta plans to release two additional versions of the Intrepid appliance by year's end. The Intrepid B will act as a failover appliance for IT environments with high-availability requirements and include software that enables continuous real-time data synchronization between the M and B appliances. The Intrepid S will include 2 terabytes of storage for companies looking for more storage capacity than is available with the M appliance. Although Levanta's technology works only with Linux servers, the company plans to support servers running Sun Microsystems' new open-source OpenSolaris operating system early next year.

OpenSolaris includes Solaris Containers, a feature that allows the creation of multiple virtual machines under one instance of the operating system and resembles Levanta's approach, where each app on a server can be assigned its own memory, CPU, and storage resources but functions under one running instance of the operating system.

This evolution of server virtualization in open-source environments is attracting attention from top companies, although the technology still has a long way to go for some. Visa USA Inc. is considering Sun's Solaris Containers technology. "We're totally in support of these developments," says Sara Garrison, Visa's senior VP of technology development for network and open systems. "But we're running the world's largest payment system and aren't in production with any of it. The technology has to be sufficiently mature so that it can handle unprecedented volumes of activity."

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