InfoWorld: Graham Lovell Talking About Sun & Virtualization

According to a recent press release from Sun Microsystems, one company in particular is combining the well planned architecture of Sun’s Sun Fire X4200 Server and the power of virtualization to perform a 22-1 server consolidation, thereby allowing them to combat and reduce power consumption and high heat output by up to 84 percent: NewEnergy is replacing its entire Houston data center, comprised of 22 Intel processor-based servers, with two Sun Fire X4200 servers powered with the Dual-Core AMD Opteron processor, and running the Solaris 10 OS. NewEnergy’s Houston data center performs CPU-intensive Grid computing simulations for its customers nationwide, which mirror real-world electric Grids in order to plan for potential disasters. Trial results demonstrated the Sun Fire X4200 servers as being much faster than other servers which is partially credited to the Solaris 10 OS’s efficiency over memory-intensive applications running the Windows OS.Sun and VMware have combined efforts to provide innovation and deliver proven virtual infrastructure solutions for enterprise computing. Leveraging the power of VMware Infrastructure 3, Solaris 10 and the Sun Fire series of servers, customers can maximize performance and reduce overall cost of ownership via server consolidation, business continuity, and test or development solutions. Combining these products, IT managers are given a complete solution to help increase their server utilization, improve performance and reduce costs while making better use of their data center resources, like space, cooling and power consumption. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Graham Lovell, Senior Director of the Systems Group for Sun Microsystems. I wanted to find out more about Sun and to get his take on the whole virtualization scene, specifically software licensing, emerging trends, and customer needs in the virtualization space.

David Marshall: In your own words, what is Sun’s strategy towards virtualization?Graham Lovell: The first thing we need to establish is what we mean by virtualization and how we communicate it. We need to define it with customers in different circumstances.Customers generally look to improve the utilization of their servers. They want to run multiple applications and different operating systems. The idea is to snapshot what they have in a piece of hardware and then run it on another system in a virtualized way.They can see the benefits of running virtualized environments, but they have to support it. They need management tools to run it well.It is important that suppliers such as Sun can provide a range of options on different multiple operating systems. We have SPARC and x86 product lines. With Solaris 10, we have containers. It lets you run isolated systems where each one thinks its running on a dedicated system. If you are running Xen or VMware, you aren’t running multiple software copies.

This has been popular with customers running Solaris and SPARC and Solaris on x86 platforms.

The next choice is that customers can select VMware. VMware has a number of new products, but people think it is a single solution. When we talk to customers about experiencing VMware, some of them may have just heard of it. That is when we can talk about different styles of implementation.

Customers are seeing the benefit on how they can mix VMware. They talk about pooling resources in the data center so one can then resource data across several servers. This makes it easier to move applications around and help with capacity planning. Virtualization can help you install pool behavior.

David: Are you finding that people are using Solaris containers to do the same thing as VMware? Such as for development and test or support? Or are they strictly using it for server consolidation?Graham: Customers look at virtualization to test and debug applications across a range of application systems. That is where the customer can be more sophisticated in their choice with VMware or Xen. With VMware, you can see things have more choice. Xen is up and coming. It is embedded in a number of operating systems. It has interesting and new budget tools. I think Xen will have an interesting future virtualization stack as well.Containers are typically rolled out in an application environment.
David: How does virtualization impact software licensing?Graham: The software industry is reeling from pricing multiple cores per processor. Microsoft has strong policies around pricing cores. Virtualization software subdivides a processor into pieces of CPU. Vendors then argue why do they pay for the whole software when they only use a fraction of it?Value-based pricing is a more reasonable way to charge for software. I think Microsoft is one of the first to come out with policies around virtualized environments.

David: I agree with you. Software licensing will have to change. People are using virtual machines for things such as disaster recovery options and software companies will have to adapt.Graham: Without the flexibility in licensing, customers may find themselves paying more for the software. They moved the software from a 2-core system to an 8-core system. Virtualized environments have bigger engines. They need to make sure they don’t fall far of software restrictions.Customers need to go back to their ISVs and say, is it ok if I can move from 2-cores to 4? Then you have a start for negotiation.Sun has an enterprise system where you charge by the number of employees in the company. It doesn’t matter how much hardware you run, it’s a site-based license with lots of flexibility.

David: What do you think is driving the demand for virtualization today?Graham: I got this Windows NT application. The problem is I can no longer get hardware that can run the physical operating system. You can’t buy old hardware that will run this new software. Legacy reasons are one of the key drivers for virtualization.Server sprawl also generates too much heat and uses too much power. If I consolidate them, I can then improve the use of space, heat and power in the data center.When customers think of disaster planning, they need to easily migrate applications across platforms. If one data center has a problem, it’s easier to migrate in a virtual environment than a non-virtual one.Virtualization also offers more flexibility. When a business comes along and the IT department needs to respond quickly to business needs – virtualization can ramp things up.
David: I’ve seen problems using VMware and Xen with patch management. Since the containers approach is based on one operating system, would that solve part of the patch management problem? It seems like instead of having to patch multiple areas, you just have to patch one.Graham: The flip side is that it runs the same kernel code. So it is all consistent. But you can apply different patches into the user space. You can’t have multiple kernels. If you make any changes, it is reflected across the containers. Then you may want to run VMware with several implementations of Solaris. Then you have a patch level in one instance of Solaris.

David: Can you leave us with a good customer example?Graham: The one that gets my juices going is New Energy Associates.Neal Tisdale, Vice President of Software Development of NewEnergy Associates, consolidated 22 Dell servers to 2 Sun servers. He cut down not just the number of systems, but he cut down on heat, power and physical space. He then managed a server consolidation environment. That is the low-hanging fruit for customers. They can do better with modern technology and make a huge energy cost savings. Computing is underutilized by customers.There are significant benefits to making that change and pushing people to experiment.


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