Virtual Iron Goes Green, Update Highlights 'LivePower'

Version 4.4 of the company's marquee virtualization product can realize quick energy savings as underutilized virtual machines are consolidated onto a few hosts.
It's been implicit all along that there were energy savings in server virtualization. It was a sort of byproduct of the server consolidation that was bringing virtualization to the data center. Now Virtual Iron would like to make energy savings a direct goal.

The company on Monday is expected to announce version 4.4 of Virtual Iron, its VM management system, which includes LivePower. In addition to Virtual Iron's ability to create, move or shut down virtual machines, the system's LivePower feature makes it possible to monitor usage levels of virtualized servers and detect an underutilized server.

With LivePower, the software development and test lab can function at full throttle from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week, then realize quick energy savings as underutilized VMs are consolidated onto a few hosts. LivePower doesn't just move virtual machines around, via Virtual Iron's existing feature, LiveMigration.

"It can shut down physical servers, once they're no longer needed," said Tim Walsh, director of corporate marketing, and the hardware from which they were offloaded are turned off. And it starts them up again as the need for more VM hosts renews itself in the next work cycle.

Implementers of server virtualization say there is always an energy savings as fewer servers are utilized. Adding LivePower management to an already consolidated set of servers running VMs may generate an additional 25% in energy savings, said Walsh. Actual savings will always depend on the operational details of a given data center, he added in an interview.

As for how Virtual Iron fits in the big picture, InformationWeek Analytics has published a report that assesses the current state of virtualization management based on a survey of 323 business technology professionals. The download is available here (registration required).

LivePower and Virtual Iron are geared to work with Virtual Iron's proprietary version of the open source Xen hypervisor and not other hypervisors, such as Citrix Systems' XenServer. Walsh said Virtual Iron has gained 2,000 customers, the bulk of them in small and medium-sized companies that want the benefits of virtualization but are not customers of VMware, the market leader. Walsh said 70% of his firm's customers were small and medium-sized businesses.

Both Oracle and Sun also produce proprietary versions of hypervisors based on Xen, Sun's xVM and Oracle's Oracle VM. But they also are not supported at this time by Virtual Iron 4.4 with LivePower. Walsh said Virtual Iron hasn't ruled out additional support for other hypervisors. But few customers are running more than one Xen-based hypervisor in their data centers at this time, he said.

Virtual Iron 4.4 with LivePower will be available two weeks after the Aug. 11 announcement at a price of $799 per server socket, Walsh said. A two-way server based on dual-core processors running Virtual Iron 4.4, for example, incurs a license charge of $1,598. A future feature is support for Intel's Dynamic Power Node Manager, a feature built into its next-generation chips that is due to become available later this year. Virtual Iron 4.4 will extract power consumption information from Dynamic Power Node Manager and use it to determine how to most effectively manage the data center. For example, data from Power Node Manager would not only reveal that two servers with identical workloads were being underutilized, but which one could perform the consolidated tasks more efficiently, Marsh said.

Intel's Dynamic Power Node Manager is an added data source that Virtual Iron 4.4 can exploit but it is not needed to implement the power saving features of LivePower that will become available before the end of August, Walsh said.

Virtual Iron cited NaviMedix, a provider of online communications for health care providers, as an example of a beta user of the Virtual Iron 4.4 with LivePower.

NaviMedix is supplier of online portals to health insurers who want health care providers to have quick access to their procedure eligibility rules. A doctor seeking insurance information on a certain patient can log onto a portal, describe the intended procedure and receive the level of reimbursement for it from the insurer.

Eight months ago, NaviMedix adopted Virtual Iron as its virtualization vendor and started consolidating physical servers in its multiple data centers. It first focused on quality assurance and development, achieving a 10-1 or 15-1 ratio of virtual servers to physical servers, cutting down some of the 500 pieces of hardware it employs across the country.

It is now beginning to apply Virtual Iron to production systems, achieving a ration of 6-1 there, said Craig Richard, director of IT for the 10-year-old company in Cambridge, Mass.

"We've virtualized one-quarter to one-third of each data center," he said, and then they implemented Virtual Iron's 4.4 LivePower on top of the server consolidation. "We found it extremely easy to implement, just a couple of clicks." Instead of broad policy setting, NaviMedix tells LivePower to commission another physical server once CPU utilization of an existing server reaches a certain level, and redistribute the virtual machine load across the cluster.

Likewise, he said, when CPU utilization falls below a certain level, virtual machines on a host are redistributed to other servers and the host is shut down. He has not calculated energy savings yet from the statistics available, but says it has become a clear energy saver in the quality assurance/development area, where many machines are needed during work hours but not during the nights or weekends.