Sun previews Solaris-Xen hypervisor

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Sun Microsystems is preparing to launch a Xen-based hypervisor in an attempt to catch up in the virtualisation market.

The server maker plans to release a first preview of its xVM server in January, followed by a release in the second quarter of 2008. An xVM Ops Center management application will be released in December.

Virtualisation is primarily used to consolidate infrastructure applications such as email, print and file servers on a single physical server.

The technology's greatest promise, however, lies in the ability to move workloads to a different server in the event of a hardware failure or to allow for maintenance without system downtime.

But the automation of such live migrations requires management software that is able to detect when a server is about to suffer a hardware failure, according to Marc Hamilton, vice president of Solaris marketing at Sun.

"The business agility benefits are more a feature of the management platform than of the actual virtualisation platform," he said in a meeting with reporters and analysts in San Francisco.

"As a systems company, we believe the real benefits are in tying together the management of the virtual and the physical layers."

The xVM server is essentially a tweaked version of Solaris in combination with the open source Xen hypervisor. It supports Linux, Windows and Solaris running as guest operating systems.

Hamilton declined to discuss the licensing structure for the software. Xen is governed by the General Public Licence, whereas Solaris falls under the Common Distribution and Development Licence.

Pointing to Sun's strategy of releasing all its software under an open source licence, Hamilton suggested that the xVM Server could fall under either licence.

Sun is late to the x86 virtualisation game. The company offers Logical Domains virtualisation technology supported in Sparc processors, but it lacks support for AMD or Intel chips.

Solaris also offers a 'container' technology that allows applications to run in an isolated compartment without requiring a separate operating system.

The virtualisation market has clearly gathered around hypervisor-based virtualisation on x86 servers. VMware is currently valued at US$34 billion, nearly 80 percent more than Sun's market capitalisation of US$19 billion.

Hamilton denied that Sun has missed the boat on virtualisation, however, arguing that the market is still in its early stages.

"There is still a tremendous amount of opportunity. A lot of times, using a proprietary custom built solution, you can get time of market advantages," he said.

"The open source community, through Xen and other open source projects, is now bringing products to market based on open source alternatives. We think that there is room for multiple virtualisation companies."

Sun also is trailing behind its competitors in embracing the latest virtualisation trends. The company could not comment on planned support for Intel's Flexmigration technology, which allows live migrations of workloads between current and future Xeon processors.

VMware has already committed to supporting the technology in a future version of its ESX server product.

Sun also avoided questions about its plans for creating an embedded hypervisor, saying that such an offering would depend on customer demand.

An embedded hypervisor runs off Flash memory instead of a hard drive, allowing for faster deployment of new servers. VMware and XenSource unveiled embedded hypervisors last month.
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