Hanging out at IDF (Xen, KVM and VirtualBox, oh my!)

I'm spending the afternoon here hanging out at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF).  It's being held at the new(ish) West wing of Moscone and it's a very busy scene.

Sun has a booth here where we're showing off the latest xVM, OpenSolaris and Sun hardware technology.  Also, there were several Sun people speaking here.  Bill Franklin was speaking about OpenSolaris and I just finished up a panel on "Open Source Virtualization."  The panel was moderated by Intel, but included reps from Citrix, Oracle, RedHat and Sun.

The panel turned out to be pretty interesting, and an interesting dynamic emerged.  Simon Crosby from Citrix (the father of Xen more-or-less) spent a lot of time talking about the goodness that is the Xen open source project.  He likened it to a freely available design for a car engine that allows car manufacturers to take advantage of a common engine, but all build different cars (in this case virtualization products).  Since all four companies on the panel were using Xen in their products, it's in interesting analogy.

However, the fireworks started when RedHat put up a slide showing their view on the "evolution" of open source virtualization.

  • First Generation: UML
  • Second Generation: Xen
  • Third Generation: KVM

At this point we had an animated discussion of the relative merits of different virtualization technologies.  In some ways (flogging Simon's metaphor) this is like arguing over the relative merits of Wankle vs. piston engines.  Each has it's applications.  However, working at Sun on xVM, I'm focused on building complete cars -- not debating engine design merits.  Which engine we use is an implementation detail.  Customers usually choose cars based on performance, price and appearance -- not engine physics.  xVM Server currently uses Xen.  xVM VirtualBox uses an excellent type-2 hypervisor developed from scratch by innotek.  Each has its uses, and customers choose one of them based on their specific needs.

It'll be interesting to watch the continued debate of Xen vs. KVM.  Entertaining to be sure, but for now I'll get back to building the best virtualization and management solutions for our customers.


Interesting that the engine analogy is back. When I first started covering open source in 1998 the open source engine analogy was something along the lines of "....buying Windows is akin to buying a car with the hood welded shut. You can't get at the engine." Not sure the analogy has evolved terribly though as I agree with Steve that the engine is a feature.

Posted by Bill Peterson on August 21, 2008 at 12:35 AM PDT #

Hey Steve,

Sorry for an off-topic post, but I couldn't find any better way to get in touch with somebody technical at Sun regarding xVM.

I just made a post on the VirtualBox forum (http://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?p=34063) asking whether it might be possible to mount PCI Express slots within virtual machines, similar to the way USB devices are handled?

We're really interested in VDI here, but can't find any solution for our CAD workstations. 3D support seems to be a tricky issue so I'm wondering it it might not be a lot easier to mount PCIe cards within virtual machines instead of having the hassle of emulating full 3D graphics cards?

If it's possible, it would seem a great fit for servers like Sun's x4240 or x4440 running Solaris and VirtualBox / xVM. In a single 2U server you could fit 6 CAD graphics cards and take advantage of 8-16 CPU cores, ZFS over 8-16 disks and four gigabit ethernet ports. It looks a pretty perfect fit to me.

If something like this were technically possible we'd love to get our CAD data moved into the server room running on Sun kit and ZFS.

Posted by Ross on August 27, 2008 at 06:43 PM PDT #

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Thoughts on cloud computing, virtualization and data center management from Steve Wilson, Oracle engineering VP.


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