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Parallels Server Public Beta

Mac admins rejoice. Others may want to read, too. Trust me.
Mac admins rejoice. Others may want to read, too. Trust me.Readers know I'm one of the Mac faithful; full disclosure -- I'm typing this post on a G5. I've reviewed Leopard Server for IWeek and I run a mixed Apple/Linux/Windows shop (in that order) for my production environment. We even have an older G4 Xserve workhorse in the virtualization lab. The upshot of the announcement: I now have a very good reason to pick up a new 8-core Xserve for testing VMs ... SWsoft (to be formally renamed Parallels any day now) has placed its new server virtualization product into public beta a week before Macworld.

PARALLELS IMAGE GALLERY

I have been a part of SWsoft's closed beta for Parallels Server. I've been itching under embargo, but as of 12:01 this morning I can share.

Bottom line -- it works. I've been running a canned version of Leopard Server 10.5 as a guest OS under Parallels beta1 code on a dual-Xeon Xserve and a Core 2 Duo MacBook with no major issues.

I'll be frank -- this was an early beta. The hypervisor does not run on bare metal yet. Parallels Server currently runs as a "lightweight" hypervisor on top of Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5; the Parallels folks are promising a fully-fledged, headless hypervisor solution in the production version, capable of running on both Apple and mainstream Intel platforms.

What does this mean to you? If you're a non-Mac shop, Parallels server will be yet another hypervisor-based solution for virtualizing server and client OSes, complementing SWsoft's Virtuozzo Containers Server virtualization offering. Existing Virtuozzo customers can use the Virtuozzo management interface to control both platforms. Parallels Server runs 32- and 64-bit flavors of Windows and Linux on Intel-based hardware, with full support for VT-x and experimental support for second-generation Intel VT-d chipsets (Intel Virt technology for Directed I/O). You won't be able to run Apple guests on non-Apple hardware, but then if you're a non-Mac shop you probably don't care about Mac OS.

If you're administering a Mac shop, Parallels server is currently the only game in town for hosting multiple instances of Leopard Server (Mac OS 10.5) alongside Win2K3, Win2K8, Solaris, Linux distos, etc., on Apple hardware. The product runs on any Intel-based Mac all the way up to the just-announced Harpertown 8-core Xserves. This is the first solution for running multiple instances of Mac OS on the Intel platform; Apple licensing permits Leopard Server to run as a guested OS. Development houses and production environments can finally have easily managed Mac OS sandboxes with all the conveniences of other VM platforms such as snapshots, rollback, and migration.

To be crystal clear, running Leopard Server on non-Apple HW is not permitted by the EULA, nor are Apple client OSes currently covered under the new-for-Apple "relaxed" virtualization guidelines. It will be interesting if any changes to the client boilerplate surface after next week's keynote or whether Apple will care one way or another about end users guesting Leopard clients.

My experience with the beta so far: the pre-pre-release version I've been working with doesn't do a great job with fresh installs. I've been running an OS 10.5 server guest image provided by SWsoft for testing. I have not had success building a new image from scratch, nor attempting to NetBoot a home-grown server image. I have run a range of functional tests and applications on the guest OS without any issues. I have suspended an OS instance, migrated from one physical box to another and restarted with no issue. I have simultaneously run a Leopard guest and a Red Hat DNS server on an Xserve, each with one virtual CPU. I like what I've seen, early warts and all.

Parallel's claims for final production code include up to 4-way SMP per guest, a max 64 Gbytes of host RAM, and support for more than 50 x86 and x64 operating systems. If the stars align this spring, I will be testing the full release version in our virtualization lab to see how functionality and performance stack up against other hypervisor-based platforms. Click here if you want to sign up for the public beta.

On a business note, the folks at SWsoft are betting on the "Parallels" name, with the stated goal of phasing all SWsoft branding out of the picture. Look for "Parallels Virtuozzo" along with Parallels Desktop and Server product lines once the re-branding has shaken out.

This company isn't trying to be a dominant force in the enterprise virtualization market. These folks are targeting small and medium-sized businesses, promoting ease of setup and administration with a simple equals good model. It's hoping to leverage its slice of Apple's ongoing success in the laptop and desktop markets to move into the server space. Its relationship with Apple should remain mutually beneficial. Apple doesn't have a strong presence in the server market; Parallels Server may make Apple Xserves a viable option outside the traditional base of academia and media production houses. If Apple starts moving more Xserves, it'll be worth keeping an eye on VMware's Mac solutions, too. It might be worth keeping an eye on VMware anyway...