Virtual Servers (For Real) - InformationWeek

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12/9/2005
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Virtual Servers (For Real)

Xen open-source software should speed adoption of virtualization. But are IT teams ready to manage 1,000 virtual servers?

Matt Ayres, the president of a small Web-site hosting service, doesn't look at virtualization as a mere convenience or a handy way to centralize a few servers. With 1,000 virtual machines based on Xen open-source code, he has bet his future on it and believes it's the key differentiator between his company, TekTonic Network Solutions, and his competitors.

Ayres paid nothing for the software, but he successfully launched his service with 30 two-way servers using Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processors, subdivided into a thousand virtual machines. While competitors have to charge $100 a month for use of a single physical server, he drops fees to as low as $7.99 for a virtual machine. He and his staff of nine have found all the business they can handle.

As a two-year user of Xen, Ayres is at the forefront of what may become a flood in 2006. The first release of Xen 3.0, open-source code for generating virtual servers on Intel-based hardware, became available to developers last week. Its business-friendly features will help accelerate the trend toward virtualizing servers.

Data-center system suppliers, such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems, have been expecting that Xen will make virtualization more commonplace. Unlike Xen 2.0, which was limited to Linux, Xen 3.0 is more general-purpose since it can create Windows, Linux, and Solaris virtualized servers.

A community of developers, including Xen supporters at HP, IBM, and Sun, will test-drive the Xen 3.0 code looking for bugs and performance glitches before "a hardened version" becomes generally available in the first quarter of 2006, says Simon Crosby, chief technology officer of XenSource Inc., the company founded to support Xen.

"Our grandchildren will say, 'I can't believe you used to run computers that weren't virtualized,'" predicts Margaret Lewis, commercial software strategist with AMD. Both AMD and Intel have built virtualization hooks that help Xen and other virtualization software run efficiently on their new dual-core chips that will start appearing in servers in 2006.

Lewis believes dual core and virtualization will be natural allies. "The premise of virtualization is to take a machine and carve up its resources. With dual core, that means each virtual machine will have a robust source of CPU cycles," she says.

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