The Virtualization Room

February 6, 2008  12:36 PM

Staffing and virtualization, a response

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

I read an article here on SSV entitled “Virtualization and Staffing” the other day, and decided I had to add my two cents in and comment. I was going to do a sound-off and comment on the actual page, but I decided that this may be a better forum for the length of my response. It’s a great article, and it hits the major point of staffing and the virtualized data center well, although I partially disagree with the statement that:

“Virtualization does not reduce the number of logical servers; it only changes their location and nature. Staff is still needed to manage every virtual machine instance, associated application and database. So while the skills required to manage the servers change, the actual workload doesn’t necessarily decline.”

I agree with the last sentence 50% – while I beleive that the skills do change, I also have seen that the workload does go down, quite dramatically. The workload is reduced, particularly in lage data centers, for hardware technicians. There are less JBODs and DADs to fail, less processors to burn out, less RAM sticks to go bad, less motherboards to fail, etc. etc. Where these are handled in-house with onsite staff, the needs for this kind of work are reduced (not eliminated). When these hardware support services are handled by an outside agency (as is often the case), the reduced staff required to manage hardware failures are often translated differently – contracts are often summed up as “client pays X dollars per group of X machines”. This price reflects the vendors estimates on having to staff for the average failure rates of the hardware being supported. Thus, as the hardware count goes down, the contracts are renewed for fewer machines, the client pays less, and the vendor needs fewer staff. Somewhere, there will be a cost reduction through workforce reduction.

Then there is the often overlooked area of  lights-on indirect support. I remember well the change control meetings where every meeting started off with a rubber stamp on “Clean data center – vacuum server spaces, vacuum rack tops, vacuum floor”. There were also the frequent “Wire new racks xxx, yyy, zzz for Ethernet, power, cooling, fibre, KVM.” With less need to rack up new servers, there’s less need for electricians, cablers, HVAC techs, cleaning staff, etc.

Overall, great article – it gets the point when it comes to programmers, server admins, and other computer-focussed jobs that aren’t going away, and may even go up as sprawl increases. That said, we can’t overlook the savings on the other side – the operations behind the operating systems.

February 6, 2008  12:34 PM

The new virtual desktop: G.HO.ST in the Shell

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

There is a a product called the G.HO.ST Desktop that has been in alpha for some time. What this is, in a nutshell, is a desktop operating system (OS) that loads in the browser using Flash. It gives you 3 GB of space that are accessible not only through the GUI, but also via FTP. It includes a groupware application (Zimbra-based) that allows you to access your POP email, a Web broswer, and an IM client. It has integration with ZoHo and other tools for office-suite functionality. It can play your MP3s. It can do flickr. It can… well… make soup for you! No, not really.

Granted, it’s one of many competing projects that are out there (check Wikipedia and mashable for others), but it’s by far the most advanced and the most integrated product so far, and it bears watching for where this interesting turn in the desktop will take IT over the next few years. Coupled with the upcoming AIR from Adobe and decent application virtualization there can be some real winning opportunities here. As an alpha, it could use a performance tweak and more integration (Citrix and/or 2X client, anyone?), but for a first view, it’s great.

Another Web-desktop that I was playing with is ZK Desktop (aka Zero Kelvin Desktop). This one’s interesting because it’s locally hostable, meaning that you can load it inside your network and run it on your servers without traversing the firewall to the big-bad Internet. The demo is literally a click-to-run app that I loaded on my XP Pro machine. That said, I already had the Java SDK installed and path environment variables defined, so don’t forget to download the Java SDK if you don’t have it before you launch the demo (the readme file will tell you this!). Once it loaded up (in nine seconds), I used their browser to check my mail, do some more work, and edit a short document that became this post. Easy as pie. Still no shell though… although one could be added without much difficulty.

In the same vein is the popular EyeOS, also a locally hostable Web-desktop, and one with quite a bit of contributor support. The photo below is me, editing this blog, looking at the config page of my OpenFiler NAS/SAN box, and using SSHTerm to get into a remote linux box.

In each case, I was able to log in, work via web-apps or native apps, and maintain some decent level of productivity. For the typical knowlege worker, say a marketing or finance person, this sort of Web-desktop can be ideal provided that the right applications can be run. In fact, if I may be so bold, this may be the actual future of desktop virtualization – it will have less to do with hosting a complete desktop on a virtualized piece of hardware and more about hosting a desktop on a Web server (perhaps on a virtual guest).

Hurdles? Lots. Security, client-server apps, a Windows-Centric World, etc. Opportunities? Lots. Cross-platform application virtualization, Web-based application growth, etc.

January 30, 2008  10:29 PM

Technosium 2008: Virtualization and regulatory compliance, time to revisit?

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

I am blogging from the first annual Technosium 2008 Global Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., where I have gotten some clarification on regulatory compliance, a topic that perplexes me and other virtualization managers and administrators I know.

Have we bent the rules of regulatory compliance to get virtualized systems online? With the configuration involved in putting systems on DMZ networks, Internet-facing networks, and customer or vendor networks that handle regulatory-sensitive material (like HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and others) on virtualized systems, we may have created a compliance issue.

After talking to consultants and vendors, I came to the conclusion that it may be time to check and double check the regulatory compliance aspects of  any work on our virtualized implementations. There’s  the possibility that, from a compliance perspective, we may not have segmented all of our regulatory-protected systems adequately.

Naturally, vendors have seen the problem rearing its head and are offering automated tools. At the show today, for instance, I met with Joao Ambra, security product manager for Modulo, which specializes in IT governance, risk and compliance management. Modulo’s Risk Manager Software product assesses regulatory compliance as well as risk assessment and audit services for organizations.

Besides describing Modulo’s product, Ambra gave advice on four key areas for determining if regulatory compliance is met:

Technology: This includes the infrastructure components as the network environment, databases, servers, computers and other physical elements.

Processes: Procedures such as backup, restore, disaster recovery, password policies and internal change control management make up a processes assessment.

People: Staff training levels on the technologies used and regulations applicable to the organization are important parts of the employee inventory.

Environment: The environment consists of physical access, facilities and risks associated with physical presence of computing resources (and protected data).

According to Ambra, the key strategy to collecting data for compliance-measurable items includes identifying where virtualization fits into the components. When a virtualized system hosts critical elements or regulatory-sensitive material such as databases, access to protected healthcare data, or fixed asset systems, the virtual host and all of its elements are subject to the same scrutiny as the underlying systems. This includes the hardware, database and security configurations for the virtual environment.

Virtualization, in principle, protects from server systems running too many roles while accessing protected data. However, this is all contingent upon the implementation of the virtual environment.

January 30, 2008  10:18 PM

Technosium 2008: FastScale Composer’s cool virtual server deployment

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

Today at the Technosium Global Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., I saw a cool demonstration of FastScale Composer at work deploying virtual (and physical) servers.

FastScale Technologies Inc., maker of Composer, is a VMware alliance partner. FastScale Composer is a tool that facilitiates building physical and virtual servers from bare metal with a configurable inventory of operating systems, applications and updates. FastScale Composer is suited for data centers with 250 servers or more.

I met with FastScale CEO Lynn LeBlanc and Richard Offer, vice president of engineering, who discussed FastScale Composer’s key feature:  a software component repository that contains operating system binaries, software packages, updates and user-configurable material available for systems.

Within the Composer interface, systems are allocated with your configured inventory to be used when they boot. The underlying technology for arriving new systems is a pre-boot execution (PXE) environment that will have the configuration for the system delivered. Composer excels at this step because the package that arrives to the new system is just what’s needed. For example, in a demo I saw, a base Linux install for a Red Hat system arrived to the system as only an 8 MB image via PXE. While that is not an entire installation, the full inventory is made available to the servers via the respository.

What impressed me is this: Should any element of the system need something from the repository, it is automatically retrieved. Also, servers can be built without the need to retrieve from the repository if you want everything available locally or the repository not be available.

FastScale also has an interface into VMware. While you can perform traditional PXE builds on virtual systems as you would on physical systems, FastScale Composer’s Virtual Manager plug-in will populate new servers directly to VMware ESX. The Virtual Manager option to Composer will allow a virtual machine to be created as VMDK files and imported to ESX or VMware server. A small agent is required on at least one ESX server to receive the VMDK from Composer.

LeBlanc and Offer told me that a new version of FastScale Composer, coming soon, will incorporate Microsft Windows version support and an improved interface.  For more information or to arrange a demo, visit the FastScale web site.

January 30, 2008  2:27 PM

Technosium 2008: Virtualization takeaways for business continuity

Rick Vanover Rick Vanover Profile: Rick Vanover

I am blogging from the inaugural Technosium Global Conference and Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I’ll be signing on intermittently to provide you with everything I consider beneficial to the virtualization space.

First off is storage business continuity. I had an opportunity to attend a breakout hosted by Eric Herzog, the vice president of operations for Asempra Technologies. While business continuity is a topic we all are familiar with, attendees had the chance to look at the building blocks of a successful strategy for continuity, and how it applies to storage for virtualized systems. What I took away from this breakout was that there needs to be clearly defined goals that the business requirements define the following within an organization’s service level agreement (SLA):

  • Ability to measure availability and uptime
  • Data loss tolerance for your business needs (financial and operational)
  • Disaster recovery time frames made specific to your environment
  • Solutions that reduce costs with combination of technologies with reduced complexity
  • Ensuring that the SLA leverages the existing infrastructure (hardware, software, networks) as much as possible
  • Ensuring that there will be usable data on first recovery

Traditional approaches to data continuity to virtualization systems tend to respond with multiple technologies, various products, limited manageability and control, increased costs and expense, and a cumbersome process that limits successful execution of the SLA. While each storage business continuity strategy has positives and negatives, the right solution will depend on your virtualization availability requirements. Among the newer storage technologies are drive snapshots, data deduplication, and remote replication. Some solutions address actual virtual machines, where some address the shared storage systems that host virtual environments. Remote replication provides the fastest recovery time for a virtualized storage system, but also at the highest expense.

In summary, the business continuity strategy for virtualized systems needs to resolve primarily around the technology behind the storage systems in use. The other challenge to virtualization management is to define the goals of virtualization continuity via an SLA.

January 28, 2008  7:29 PM

VMware stock plummets, but company won’t ease pricing in 2008

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

Despite VMware Inc.’s having missed analysts’ estimates for the fourth quarter of 2007 — which sent shares into an after-hours free-fall on Monday (trading was at $61 a share at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, down from $83 at the market’s close) — the company’s CEO Diane Greene maintained that the company will not lower product pricing in 2008. “We do think we can maintain our pricing,” Greene said on an earnings call with investors. “We anticipate continuing our pricing over the course of the year.”

Greene also said that while customers (of which there are now reportedly more than 100,000) are investigating Hyper-V, thus far the company hasn’t seen an impact from Microsoft’s forthcoming virtualization platform. “Our customers have evaluated it and told us they saw no reason to switch,” Greene said, pointing to an InfoWorld report that compared Hyper-V to VMware Server 1.0, “but not as polished.”

Of course, Wall Street is rarely satisfied. During Q407, VMware increased its revenue 80% to $412 million, profits more than doubled, and the company is on a run rate of $1.6 billion. But the ongoing shift in revenue from licensing to services (support, subscription and professional services), as well slower U.S. growth relative to international markets has worried investors, who responded by depressing the stock price to levels not seen since mid-August, days after the IPO.

Looking forward, Greene told investors that in 2008 the company plans to unveil new products for security and virtual desktops and will “preview a major new Virtual Infrastructure suite.”

January 28, 2008  9:24 AM

Citrix XenServer gets VMLogix’s LabManager

Alex Barrett Alex Barrett Profile: Alex Barrett

Test-and-development environments that want to see how software runs on Citrix Systems Inc.’s XenServer virtual machines can now do so, thanks to VMLogix, which has added Citrix XenServer to the list of platforms supported by its LabManager offering.

Citrix XenServer joins a comprehensive list of virtualization platforms supported by VMLogix, including VMware ESX Server, VMware Server, and Microsoft Virtual Server; support for Oracle VM and Sun xVM is also forthcoming, said CEO Sameer Dholokia. For the time being, Dholokia said, the company has seen “a fair bit of interest in testing VMLogix on Citrix XenServer.”

The VMLogix offering competes directly with VMware’s Lab Manager and conceivably with the newly announced Stage Manager. In fact, Dholokia claims that VMLogix’s offering already includes much of the functionality included in Stage Manager and said that VMware customers may not understand the distinction between the Lab and Stage Manager products. “It will be interesting to see how they manage the confusion factor: ‘When do I use [VMware] Lab Manager, when do I use Stage Manager?'” Dholokia said.

Pricing for VMLogix LabManager is $25,000, plus a $2,500 agent fee per two-CPU server.

January 23, 2008  9:23 AM

Introducing ivi, Java’s universal virtualization management GUI

Kutz Profile: Akutz

ivi (pronounced eve-e) stands for Java Virtual Interface, and it is a project that aims to create a single, graphical, management interface for all the major virtualization products.

Implemented in Java+Swing, ivi is truly portable. Currently ivi uses the VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3) software development kit (SDK) to communicate with VI servers and the XenApi to talk to Xen servers. Future plans include adding support for libvirt to allow communication with KVM and OpenVZ and, eventually, support for the Common Information Model (CIM) as a way to talk with VMware, Xen, and Microsoft all through one interface.

The number one barrier to a properly utilized datacenter is the lack of a single management tool to control a heterogeneous environment. The idea behind ivi is to create a single management application that can be used to control all of your datacenter’s virtualization solutions. With so many virtualization products available, using so many different types of architectures, it is more important than ever to possess a management tool that can provide IT professionals a single point of management.

You can read more about ivi at

January 22, 2008  10:00 PM

Putting VMware Server 1.04 on CentOS 5.1 x86_64

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

Since 2.0 is almost out, I imagine this will need a follow-up at some point. (Good…it’ll keep me focussed on blogging.) In the meantime, I decided to give the 64-bit world a whirl, as we’re evaluating moving to Exchange 2k7.

With my box racked up and plugged in, I grabbed the ISO for CentOS 5.1 and gave it a whirl. On a side note, it installed perfectly on a Dell PowerEdge 1950 w/ SAS disks in a RAID 5 array on a PERC5 card. In spite of some people having problems related to the RAID setup, mine went through flawlessly. (Apparently there is a known issue with multiple arrays on a single card and GRUB’s placement on the wrong array.)

After getting the OS up and running, I gave it a whirl using a FAQ I found at Nixcraft to install VMware server.

I did it once on a fully-updated install, complete with the updated kernel packages, and it bombed out. Going back, and using an updated kernel worked flawlessly. To sum up the process, here’s what to do:

  1. Install CentOS. Make sure you have your gcc packages installed (under the Development trees during setup).
  2. Grab the latest rpm from VMware and install: # rpm -ivh VMware-server-<version>.rpm
  3.  Install some more needed libraries: yum install libXtst-devel libXrender-devel
  4. Install xinetd: # yum install xinetd
  5. Run your config: #


January 18, 2008  4:29 PM

Thinstall acquired, will PortableApps be next?

Joseph Foran Profile: Joe Foran

Considering the recent acquisition of Thinstall by VMware, I have to wonder: Is PortableApps next on the list of to-be-acquired companies? The two companies have one thing in common: They both have products designed to take entire applications and put them into a single container for portability and reduction in complexity. I’ve kept a number of PortableApps applications on my USB stick for a long time — it’s nice to have a quick set of tools to use without having to use somebody else’s settings, leave traces of my work on their systems, etc. Throw in VMware player and a stripped-down guest OS with PA’s software on it and you have a real winner. Take it to the next step and put PortableApps applications onto a server that distributes software via a thin approach (Citrix, 2X, etc.) and you have a hit in application virtualization. One big beef I, and many otherwise-fans, have about Citrix is the all-too-real potential for winding up DLL Hell. Applications to be served via server-based computing solutions like Citrix (or 2X, TS, etc.) often need to be isolated if they are mission critical (would you run your Peoplesoft app on the same Citrix server with your Office 2007 suite?), which usually means adding more Citrix servers. This, in turn, means a heavier workload for staff and host servers (if you virtualize Citrix).

Enter application virtualization. There are a lot of good brands out there, notably Softricity, which was swallowed up by Microsoft already. Thinstall is another application virtualizer (albeit via an entirely different process). Then there is PortableApps, which does much of what Thinstall does, just not as much of it. Thinstall 3.3’s product description reads (in part) as follows:

Thinstall is an Application Virtualization Platform that enables complex software to be delivered as self-contained EXE files which can run instantly with zero installation from any data source. The core of Thinstall VS is the Virtual Operating System, a small light-weight component which is embedded with each “Thinstalled” application.

PortableApp’s reads like this:

A portable app is a computer program that you can carry around with you on a portable device and use on any Windows computer. When your USB flash drive, portable hard drive, iPod or other portable device is plugged in, you have access to your software and personal data just as you would on your own PC. And when you unplug the device, none of your personal data is left behind.

There are differences, of course, but the overall business models are very similar. PA is an open-source outfit, which makes it a bit more transparent than Thinstall, which has a mix of OSS and proprietary products. Since PA is purely open source, and relies a lot on the community to deliver portable-ized apps, its list of of programs is smaller and limited to open-source and other freely licensed software. Still, with the recent focus on OSS in the enterprise, one can’t help but see the value of a PortableApps version of OpenOffice sitting on a Citrix Server for thin-client and virtual desktop users to access.

Since Thinstall and PortableApps both provide OpenOffice (Thinstall does so as a demo), I took them for a spin. In my “everyman” test, which was certainly not scientific, I ran them both from a network share on the same NAS box over SMB to a Parallels virtualized XP machine with 512 MB of memory. The Thinstall demo downloads as a zip file that you extract to the desired location. The PA app downloads and installs (using an NSIS installer) to the desired location. Once extracted, I ran them three times each — the total time listed is until the app was usable. The Thinstall application (which uses v2.4 of OpenOffice) took 18 seconds on the first test to load up, 13 seconds on the second pass, and 16 seconds on the third. The PortableApps version, which uses v2.3 of OpenOffice, required setup information (your name, if you want to register, etc.). I decided to discount this from my scoring, but it took 17 seconds, in case anyone is interested, from launch to the registration screen. Once that was done, loading time until a usable screen appeared took 18, 22, and 17 seconds. The splash screens appeared at 10, six and eight seconds, respectively, for Thinstall; and six, eight and eight seconds for PortableApps (excluding the PA-promo splash, which took one second each time and is a separate splash from the OOO splash).

I moved them to the local drive and things got livelier. Thinstall loaded in six, three and three seconds (with splash at two, one and one seconds). PA loaded in six, two and two seconds (with splashes at one second each, but the PA-specific splash obscured them two of three times).

There are a lot of other interesting applications out there just ripe for the virtualization space; browser-based desktops like that offered in alpha by comes to mind. Expect a post on that sometime in the near future.

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