Sun Enters Virtualization Fray

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz unveiled the company's virtualization product line, xVM, at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in San Francisco last week.

XVM consists of two components: xVM Server, a hypervisor with support for Linux, Solaris and Windows guest operating systems; and xVM Ops Center, a management console. The Ops Center project will be released under the open source GPLv3 license, and Sun has set up a community site at www.openxVM.org.

"Our engagement with the community is not something we take lightly," Schwartz said. "It is in every way the foundation of our company."

The news comes just days after Oracle unveiled its own virtualization product, Oracle VM, which like xVM Server, is based on the open source Xen hypervisor project. Both companies join a crowded market dominated by leader VMWare.

Sun said it intends to put $2 billion behind its vXM push. Ops Center, which is expected to be available next month, has already been validated to run on 1,000 system configurations, according to Sun.

Sun's vice president of software, Rich Green, took the stage to discuss xVM's features in greater depth. He said the industry-wide drive toward virtualizing data centers has resulted in new challenges. "You have these consolidated systems where headroom has been dramatically reduced," he said. "That's a byproduct of server consolidation."

Enterprises with heavily virtualized environments are also dealing with "server sprawl," according to Green. "You have this sprawling nature of things to manage, a complexity greater than what you had before," he said.

He characterized Ops Center as "a complete suite of data center automation technology" with an interface easy for less-skilled users to work with. "Not everyone is a hardcore UNIX admin," said Sun's Steve Wilson, who demoed Ops Center for the crowd.

XVM Server can be used to host all three major operating systems: Windows, Solaris and Linux. It also will provide access to features like ZFS and Predictive Self-Healing. "We've raised the bar technically on what a hypervisor can be," Green said in an interview following the keynote. The product is set for a spring 2008 release.Like its other offerings, the software will be free, with Sun making money through support services. "Most people applying virtualization in the data center are not going to do it unsupported," Green said. Forrester Research principal analyst James Staten said Sun's announcement reflects the general drive to build virtualization offerings on top of the Xen project. "There hasn't really been a leader emerging around Xen yet," he said, adding that while one could point to Citrix, there remains a lot of room in the market. "What's unique about Sun is that they're marrying it to Solaris," Staten said, describing Sun's platform as well-used to running on massively parallelized systems. That could be "a huge advantage" for Sun as the industry increasingly moves to adopt multicore hardware, Staten said.

Sun said a broad array of companies has endorsed xVM, including AMD, Intel, mySQL, Symantec, Quest Software and Red Hat.

Also Wednesday, Dell CEO Michael Dell joined Schwartz onstage to announce the company has agreed to a deal to distribute Sun's Solaris 10 operating system on its PowerEdge servers. "I'd like to believe Dell is going to have a much different conversation now with the Solaris installed base," Schwartz said.

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