Sun shines on Niagara virtualisation

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Sun shines on Niagara virtualisation

Logical Domains supports up to 32 virtual environments on Niagara.

Sun Microsystems has unveiled Logical Domains virtualisation technology which enables its latest Niagara servers to run up to 32 virtual environments on Solaris 10.

The technology essentially works through a firmware update to Sun's T1 processor that adds a hypervisor.

The option will initially be available to customers of new systems, but Sun expects to provide an update to users of existing T1000 and T2000 servers in the future.

Logical Domains boasts essentially the same functionality as VMware and the open source Xen technology. But systems administrators will not be able to move virtual images from Xen or VMware to Sun's virtual environments.

Sun has a partnership with VMware for its AMD Opteron powered Sun Fire servers, but the virtualisation vendor does not support Niagara's Sparc architecture.

Sun is adding support for Xen to its Solaris operating system for x86 servers, but claimed that it would be too much work to make Xen run on Sparc.

"Xen, at the time we started our project, did not support critical features such as 64-bit, so taking their software, which did not support Sparc either, and porting it to Sparc and adding 64-bit, multiprocessor and other technologies would have taken longer than developing just the software parts necessary to implement Logical Domains," said Larry Wake, a group manager for Solaris at Sun.

However, current Niagara users have little to gain from virtualisation, according to Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Illuminata. 

"This becomes more of an interesting application in successor processors that can handle heavier load processes," Haff told, referring to forthcoming chips like Niagara 2 and Rock.

Niagara servers are designed for high throughput applications such as Web servers. Users of such applications typically employ Sun's container virtualisation technology.
Virtual containers allow for more sharing of system resources, whereas hypervisor technology requires full operating systems to be installed on each virtual compartment.

While each method has pros and cons, containers tend to do well for network-facing applications such as web hosting, while enterprise applications run better on hypervisor technology.

Haff added that Sun's virtualisation strategy is not clear. The vendor is unable to say how it will allow users to move images between Logical Domains and Xen or VM Ware.
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