I had a great call with First American Title Holding Co. about Novell Open Enterprise Server 2 the other day. Why was it so great? Because it surprised me. I went in expecting one thing and got another. For a reporter, that’s great. It’s an education. It’s like waking up thinking it’s Sunday when it’s really Saturday. Or something like that.
One of the goals I had going in was to get details about First American’s new SUSE Enterprise Linux deployment, as well as some additional bits of file serving goodness from the OES2 they installed on top of it. As it turns out, the creme de la creme was the virtualized NetWare servers they were running using Xen paravirtualizaiton. Many NetWare shops simply cannot migrate off that OS, as the applications are customized and cannot run any other way.
Xen: Ready for OES2′s launch?
With the launch of OES2, Novell is trying really hard to entice those last few NetWare shops to make the leap to Linux. They’re doing this by enticing them with virtual NetWare servers running in Xen. That said, was Xen mature enough for First American’s mission critical NetWare applications? Would it perform as well?
At first glance, things were not looking too good.
Kurt Johnston, a lead engineer on the First American migration, wasn’t optimistic. “I did not have high expectations for Xen,” Johnston told me in a call last week. “With Xen being as young as it is, I was expecting it to be very difficult to install and configure a new domU onto dom0.” Johnston and his boss, IT director Dan McDougall, were also wary of performance issues they had read about in trade magazines and had heard from other users throughout the year.
But they were soon pleasantly surprised, and so was I. Xen wasn’t VMware ESX Server, but it was close enough–at least for First American. That, at least to me, was the surprise. It’s been a 24 hour VMware lovefest for the past two years or so, and I hadn’t been up on the subject enough to see any changes in that dynamic. When I talked with analysts in 2006 and ’07 I had always heard Xen had plenty of potential, but like any new technology it needed work. Illuminata senior analyst Gordon Haff, speaking to me for the same article, told me that much of the work needed to prove that potential had been completed throughout 2007. It was a collection of hard work and bug fies; not any single thing, he said.
“The fact is, [Xen] was rather simple to install. It was the ease of installation and configuration that surprised me. I was expecting to use quite a bit of [a command line interface],” Johnston said. Fortunately for First American, there was very little CLI, if any. No headaches, no problems–save one.
There was one issue worth noting about Xen, according to Johnson. He said one thing he would like to see in Xen is in “the paravirtualization side of things”:
“I’d like to be able to somehow mask certain virtual machines and only allow certain LUNs [logical unit numbers] on the SAN [storage area network] to serve and see certain virtual machines, via Xen. I’d like to be able to build in a limit to the different servers to see only specific LUNs on the SAN.”
He went on to say that having the ability to visualize the host bus adapter (HBA) and use Xen to manage virtual Fibre Channel ports would allow LUN masking of these ports and give the ability to grant access to only specified LUNs.
This capability is also still an issue in VMware environments as well, but a support update for N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) in VMware ESX 3.5 was announced earlier this month.
Fixes from XenSource, Novell
But what about XenSource, the corporate entity behind the Xen hypervisor? Or Novell, which was the first commercial Linux OS vendor to bake Xen into its OS? Was a fix forthcoming for those Novell OES2 customers, like Johnston and McDougall, that wanted the same functionality in their environments? Simon Crosby, CTO of XenSource, responded to that question regarding support for N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) via email this morning. He said:
“It’s planned ASAP for XenSource products (Q1 08). The Xen project doesn’t have a storage roadmap – just the hypervisor. Whether any vendor puts a particular storage technology into its product is up to that vendor.”
Novell is working on a multi-vendor fix: “We are working on N_Port Virtualization together with Qlogic and Emulex,” said Holger Dryoff, vice president of management and marketing at Novell. “This will be available in one of the future service packs of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and therefore to OES 2 customers as well.”
I find all of this interesting because it will mean more choices. More choices means competition, and competition means happier customers. Happier customers are more apt to speak to the press and tell their stories. Whether the technology ultimately makes the customers happy, well, that’s what we’re here to find out.