It's a Literal Virtual Threefer
- By John K. Waters
It's shaping up to be a big week for virtualization announcements, with two
of the leading vendors and an enterprise software heavyweight set to unveil
spanking new products trimmed with many V's.
On Wednesday, during the company's Beijing user conference, BEA Systems will unveil its new virtualization
strategy and an aggressive roadmap for optimizing the operation of Java
applications in virtualized environments. This is the San Jose, CA-based
company's first foray into virtualization, and the focus of the initiative is
''This is all about optimizing Java,'' BEA's James Sherburne told me. ''No
one else is looking specifically at Java environments and optimizing Java
applications in a virtual environment. The fact that we have insight all the way
down to the JVM level, we think is a huge plus.''
The first product on the roadmap is BEA's WebLogic Server Virtual Edition
(WLS-VE), which the company plans to introduce in the first quarter of next
year. WLS-VE is a version of its Java application server that includes the new
Liquid VM technology, which will enable Java applications to run directly on a
hypervisor without a standard OS. Initially, the Liquid VM will work only with
VMware’s ESX Server hypervisor, Sherburne said, but the company plans to support
other hypervisors in future, including those from XenSource and Microsoft.
There are actually two pieces to BEA's virtualization strategy: bottom-up
enablement, which is characterized by the Liquid VM. (Sherburne called it ''our
secret sauce.'') On top of that is the management piece, BEA's Liquid Operations
Center, which the company plans to introduce in summer 2007.
BEA has been pursing its ''liquid'' computing strategy for about two years,
and virtualization fits thematically, and practically. The idea is that, by
''liquefying'' enterprise IT assets through a service oriented architecture from
the bottom of the software stack, enterprises become more flexible and (dare I
say it) fluid. The company is touting its virtualization solution as a key
component of its SOA 360º initiative.
With this announcement, BEA is proving that it's sometimes good to come late
to the party. Rather than putting all of their eggs into bare-metal
technologies, or focusing solely on a management offering, the company can
present its customers with a broader, bottom-up-top-down strategy.
''Virtualization is the most explosive and transformative technology wave to
hit the industry since open source,'' James Governor, principal analyst and
founder of RedMonk, told me via email.
''BEA wants to take advantage of new approaches to application lifecycle
[management] enabled by virtualization, but also to put forward a differentiated
approach to take advantage of it. That is where BEA is heading with its
strategy. Abstraction is very powerful, but adding abstraction layers can create
performance and manageability issues. BEA is, therefore, putting forward a
proposition that each VM doesn't need its own copy of the OS to function within
a virtualized system.''
Governor hastened to point out that BEA isn't competing with virtualization
market leader VMware, but is taking
advantage of the virtualization that company has enabled.
The same cannot be said of Virtual Iron
Software, which today announced the release of version 3.1 of its
enterprise-class virtualization platform—and
with it, an offer the market will find hard to refuse.
Virtual Iron Version 3.1 is priced at $499 per socket. If my calculations are
correct, that's 20 percent of the cost of a comparable offering from VMware.
But that's not all! The Virtual Iron product can be downloaded and
licensed free when run on a single physical server with up to four
sockets. Microsoft and VMware have made
similar offers, but both Virtual Server and VMware Server must run on top of a
host operating system, while Virtual Iron's freebie comes with a hypervisor that
runs on bare metal. That, Virtual Iron's Mike Grandinetti told me, will result
big performance improvements over those other products.
The Lowell, MA-based startup released its Xen-based server virtualization
platform, Virtual Iron 3.0, in October. That release supported Suse and Red Hat
Linux. The 3.1 version adds support for Windows XP and 2003, which is obviously
critical enhancement. And it comes with a suite of management tools, including
LiveMigration, which allows users to move running VMs between physical servers;
LiveCapacity, which supports dynamic reallocation of resources to VMs based on
demand; LiveRecovery, which provides automated failover; and LiveMaintenance,
which allows physical machines to be taken offline without disturbing the VMs
running on them.
Virtual Iron's new pricing scheme brings its products within striking
distance of XenSource's XenEnterprise product, which starts at $750 for a
two-way server license. Both XenSource and Virtual Iron use the open-source Xen
hypervisor for server virtualization.
For its part, Palo Alto, CA-based XenSouce is following the recent release of
its XenEnterprise with two new products: XenServer, for Windows standard server
environments; and, XenExpress, a free offering that enables single virtual
machine test environments.
The company bills XenEnterprise as the market’s first enterprise-grade,
commercially packaged virtualization solution based on the open-source Xen
hypervisor that supports both Microsoft Windows and Linux.
Both Virtual Iron and XenSource are competing with a veritable (one might
even say virtual) market monster in VMware. The EMC subsidiary pioneered
virtualization for x86, and it was the only game in town for ages.
''VMware definitely has that first-mover advantage,'' says IDC analyst John Humphreys. ''They've got
mindshare, they've got deployments, and they're being taken ever deeper into the
organization. So it's going to take a lot to get customers to think about
switching. Virtual Iron's pricing is a great first step.''
Why is the virtualization market so lively this week? ''I don't know that the
timing is particularly significant,'' says Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at
Illuminata. ''But the fact is, users
really like this technology. VMware has been growing by leaps and bounds, and
they're making a lot of money for EMC. The question that remains to be answered
is, will the competition's products work as well.''
BTW: I just found out that San Jose, CA-based Cassatt Corporation has announced the
latest version of its Collage platform, Collage 4.0, which comes with a new VM
and network virtualization control capabilities. Cassatt isn't exactly a
virtualization vendor, but an enterprise software and services company that
provides management tools for existing virtualization products. The
Cross-Virtualization Manager (XVM) module of Cassatt Collage may be the first
product to support the automated management of the VMware ESX 3.0, Xen 3.0, and
XenEnterprise 3.0 virtual machines.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached