Sunday May 03, 2009

"Free" Hypervisor Options

Since my last post where I described that the xVM Server product is being bundled into xVM Ops Center, I got a lot of questions about whether this means there's no truly open source option for hypervisors from Sun.  Of course, first there is VirtualBox.  There have been over 10,000,000 downloads of VirtualBox and it keeps getting better and better.  However, lots of people are clearly interested in a type-1, bare-metal hypervisor that supports features like multi-CPU guests and migration.

One great option for people that want a completely open source type-1 hypervisor is the xVM hypervisor that's included in every copy of OpenSolaris.  This is the same hypervisor that's at the core of xVM Server, but it's exposed as a feature of the OS instead of as a managed appliance -- all the same base capabilities are there.  It can be a little tricky to get started with xVM hypervisor if you don't have exposure to this style of product.  However, Paul Telles recently put up a couple of blog entries that show everything you need in order to get the hypervisor installed at get your first Windows VM running inside:

Check it out!

Thursday Apr 30, 2009

What's Up with xVM?

Things have been very busy here since I last blogged frequently, so there is much to catch up on.  In conjunction with VMworld in September we announced the xVM Portfolio.  There were several products included, so it's time for an update on them all.

On the desktop side, we announed VirtualBox 2.0 last September, and since then have shipped version 2.1 and just this month released version 2.2 to rave reviews.   Also, Sun released our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software version 3.0.  3.0 is a major release and it now offers seamless integration between the VDI broker and VirtualBox, as well as Sun's new 7000 series storage appliances. See here for details.

On the server side, we released xVM Ops Center 2.0 in January this year.  Ops Center became Sun's unified systems management tool.  With version 2.0, key features include:

  • Management and monitoring of hardware and operating systems
  • Provisioning of firmware, operating systems and applications
  • World-class patch automation
  • IT compliance reporting
  • A new, super-slick graphical console
  • Scalability to handle thousands of systems

However, the question I've been asked a lot over the past few months is, "Where is xVM Server?"  In October we amped up our Early Access program with xVM Server EA2 and opened the program to hundreds of users.  We later followed up with an EA3 release and added even more users.  We got tons of feedback from users, and while there were many things they liked, there were some major themes that emerged that caused us to re-think parts of our strategy.  These included:

  • Participants requested a “hands off” installation process that could be used to deploy the hypervisor to many servers quickly.  The single-system install was "klunky" and not suited to an enterprise data-center.
  • Participants requested migration capability for guests between hypervisor instances.  Multi-host management was not an add-on option -- it was a requirement for serious use.
  • Participants requested more access to the underlying OpenSolaris instance to allow for more customization.  While people appreciated having a wrapper "appliance" around the core Solaris instance, it was a problem having a totally custom OpenSolaris distro for xVM Server.
  • Customers are now for more interested in larger “cloud” type deployments than smaller consolidation projects

As a result of these and many other observations, we concluded that a general purpose, multi-node solution is required.  Thus, we refocused our efforts around use-cases where Ops Center becomes the central way to manage the hypervisor and the underlying hardware.  In addition, we've started on a trajectory where we will converge the xVM Server and OpenSolaris lines so that exactly the same codebase is used for both. 

This week we released xVM Ops Center 2.1.  It's a substantial upgrade from the January 2.0 release.  It addressed feedback we received from the first 50 customer deployments of Ops Center 2.0 and added a few key features.  One key feature is Power Management.  With Ops Center 2.1 we now include the ability to interface with the Server's on-board Service Processor (ILOM) and create power reports such as:

  • View top 5 servers based on CPU Load and aggregate power usage in a group of servers.
  • View top 5 servers based on CPU load and aggregate power usage in a virtual resource pool.
  • View historical power usage for a server.
  • View historical aggregate power usage of a virtual resource pool.
  • View historical aggregate power usage of a group of servers.

With all the interest in Eco/Green computing we expect a lot of buzz around this.  However, the most interesting item is the release of a set of comprehensive x64 hypervisor management functions.  Ops Center can now:

  • Provision the xVM Server hypervisor onto bare metal servers.  It can do these completely "hands off" and it can do this for multiple servers simultaneously. It does all required network setup and plumbing as well (a major hurdle for our EA customers)
  • Creation of VM guests and provisioning of images to those guests (either via ISO install or network install)
  • Guest snapshotting and backup
  • VMDK file format support and import of VMware Virtual Appliances
  • NFS and CIFS network storage support for guest and ISO images
  • Live migration of guests from one host to another
  • Virtual Pool constructs for policy automation across hypervisor hosts based on load, as well as automatic failure recovery

Ops Center 2.1 includes a bundled xVM Server beta that is available to all Ops Center customers, and we will be running a formal beta program with key, interested customers to ensure this works reliably and at scale for real enterprise deployments.  If you are of of the existing hundreds of xVM Ops Center 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 or Sun Connection customer then you're eligible to upgrade to Ops Center 2.1 (which includes the xVM Server beta) for free.  Please contact your usual sales/support channels for details.  If you're interested to evaluating Ops Center for your datacenter then you can request that here.

I'd like to thank the hundreds of people who participated in the xVM Server EA program.  Your feedback has been been critical to us in ensuring we are building the product that customers need.  In the coming weeks I'll be posting a great deal more information here on what customers are doing with Ops Center and xVM Server, so stay tuned.

Friday Sep 12, 2008

Lab on a Laptop

The last demo we showed at the xVM launch was a demo of xVM VirtualBox 2.0.  Markus, who assembled the demo, put together a really nice blog entry on how it all works.  Check it out!  You can watch me giving the demo in the movie player below.

Wednesday Aug 20, 2008

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.

Monday Aug 04, 2008

xVM VirtualBox wins InfoWorld Award

xVM VirtualBox continues to pick up steam.  It's just been announced that VirtualBox has won a BOSSIE (Best of Open Source Award) from Infoworld.  Way to go team!

xVM VirtualBox 1.6.4

There's a new release of xVM VirtualBox, the world's most popular desktop virtualization program, available -- version 1.6.4.  It's just out, and you can check out the fixes here.  I'm constantly amazed by how fast this team works.  Keep it up guys!

Sunday Jul 20, 2008

xVM VirtualBox MacWorld Podcast

With the release of xVM VirtualBox 1.6, Mac users finally have an open, robust option for desktop virtualization, and they seem pretty excited about it.  In this video Podcast, Macworld columnist Rob Griffiths gives an excellent five-minute rundown of VirtualBox for the Mac.  He gives a quick tutorial on how to install OpenSolaris inside VirtualBox on the Mac, and then demonstrates using Windows Media Player to view high-definition video within a virtual machine.  Super cool!  Check it out.

Friday Jun 06, 2008

xVM VirtualBox 1.6.2 Available

Cranking right along, the team today released version 1.6.2 of xVM VirtualBox.  This is a release with a number of really good bug fixes in it.  If you're using 1.6.0 then this may be worth an upgrade for you.  If you're not using VirtualBox yet, then this is a great place to start.  Here's a list of some of the fixes.

  • GUI: fixed a bug which prevented to add more than one SATA drive from the GUI
  • GUI: fixed a regression introduced in 1.6.0: the fullscreen mode was left on every guest video mode switch
  • GUI: fixed several minor issues
  • Networking: fixed a host interface networking regression introduced in 1.6.0
  • VMM: fixed starting of VMs with AMD-V enabled
  • VMM: massive performance enhancements for AMD-V
  • VMM: stability improvements for AMD-V on Windows hosts
  • VMM: correctly detect AMD CPUs with erratum 170 (AMD-V)
  • VMM: detect inconsistent timestamp counters on certain AMD Phenom CPUs (Windows host only)
  • VMM: fixed KVM check (Linux hosts only) XPCOM: fixed several races
  • VMM: fixed a regression introduced in 1.6.0: Windows stuck during installation
  • SATA: improved performance with Vista guests
  • SATA: fixed statistics counter
  • Shared Folders: several fixes (iTunes download, speed up browsing)
  • ATA/IDE: fixed boot from CDROM if a medium was added while the boot menu was active
  • Networking: provide an Intel PRO/1000 T Server (82543GC) network device emulation which is recognized by Windows XP guests
  • Networking: fixes for the E1000 emulation (don't crash if not attached, fixed a bug in the statistics counter implementation)
  • NAT: don't crash if the guest sent a DHCPRELEASE message with an invalid IP address
  • NAT: fixed ARP reply for the NAT gateway and for the NAT name server if the guest IP range was changed
  • Internal Networking: fixed shutdown if more than two VMs are connected to the same network
  • BIOS: allow to change the DMI informatiton (see chapter 9.13, Con'guring the BIOS DMI information, page 125)
  • RTC: fixed UIP emulation to prevent jumping of time in Solaris guests
  • Windows host: VirtualBox installation directory corrected for 64 bits Windows
  • Windows host: fixed VBoxVRDP.exe symlink
  • Windows host: solved locking problems in raw partition VMDK support
  • Windows host: fixed stability during high system load (page fault in KeQueryActiveProcessors)
  • MacOS X host: fixed crashes under certain conditions
  • Shared Folders: limited users without admin rights now also can use Shared Folders on Windows guests
  • Linux hosts: fixed default runlevel for the kernel module helper script
  • Solaris hosts: enabled support for VT-x and AMD-V
  • Solaris hosts: dynamic loading of libdlpi fixes a problem where Solaris 10 was not able to start a VM
  • Linux additions: fixed runlevels for kernel module helper scripts
  • Linux additions: compatibility fixes with Linux 2.6.26
  • Linux additions: fixed occasional guest kernel crash during unload of the vboxadd guest kernel module

Wednesday May 28, 2008

5,000,000 Sounds Nice

It's amazing to see how fast xVM VirtualBox is accelerating.  I'm not talking about the speed of the virtualization engine, but instead the speed at which it's being adopted around the planet!  In fact it recently celebrated it's five millionth download.  Better yet, since the recent version 1.6 release, we've been averaging over 10,000 downloads per day.  That's an amazing rate for something as seemingly "geeky" as a hypervisor -- this isn't an office suite after all.

Beyond just downloads, we're starting to see a real increase in the amount of attention the software is getting.  In fact, Chhandomay just recently posted a summary of all the reviews the product has been receiving. However, what's even more exciting than mainstream press coverage is the fact that real people are using it and telling their friends.  Desktop options like Fusion and Parallels have been around on the Mac much longer than VirtualBox -- which only released final Mac support this month.  However, I was looking at a just published article on Lifehacker discussing how to run Windows on your Mac.  They didn't mention VirtualBox in the article, but several readers posted follow ups to the article with comments like these:

  • Another absolutely free option is VitualBox from Innotek ([]). Sun Microsystems has actually recently acquired them, but the Virtual Box code will remain open source. It runs great on Mac, and is not resource hungry.
  • I have just dumped VMWare Server on Ubuntu for VirtualBox gotta say I am very impressed. I just checked and there is support for OS X and a choice of the Open Source Edition (OSE) or the Personal Use and Evaluation License (PUEL) - which has USB support. In Ubuntu a XP guest set to the defaults of 192MB RAM etc. runs almost as quickly as a real machine, VMWare was not as responsive or frugal.
  • VirtualBox, btw, is easily as good as the commercial virtualization tools, and free

I think we're well on our way to building an army of xVM VirtualBox evangelists.  Help spread the word.

BTW, for another fun use of VirtualBox, check out Kier's notes on installing the just released xVM Ops Center 1.1 inside a virtual machine.  I'll be talking here more soon about all that's cool in Ops Center these days.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday May 27, 2008

Changing How Software is Deployed

Deploying software in modern data centers is a nightmare.  There's no happy way to say it.  I've known this for a while, but I had a meeting today that really drove the point home.  Mike Wookey, Prasad Pai and I met the account team that manages one of Sun's largest financial services customers.  The account team described process and tools the customer uses today to deploy their complex, multi-tier software.  It's typical of what we see with large customers, but it's not pretty.

Enterprise software is complicated.  Deploying it involved multiple levels of dependencies which must be managed.  These include: hardware, operating system, middleware, applications, network configuration, etc, etc.  All applications have these kinds of constraints, but there is no standard mechanism to describe these relationships.  Tools vary widely in how they address this.  This leads to complex procedures that are either: 1) error prone, or 2) time consuming and inflexible.  Neither is ideal in an environment that is measured on agility, uptime and cost savings.

In talking to customers for the past two years, we've really started to understand what's at the root of these issues, and we've been able to design the xVM product portfolio with these in mind.  There is no single, technological, silver bullet that will solve these problems.  However, with cleaver application of technology in some new areas, we believe we can make a big dent in the problem.

People who read my blog know that I like to talk about xVM VirtualBox.  It is a cool product, and I use it almost everyday. However, I'm not in the key demographic for the product.  The most important people who use products are Software Developers (cue Steve Ballmer here).  Almost all developers in modern enterprises are developing complex, multi-tier software.  With VirtualBox, developers can create multiple virtual machines in software and construct a multi-tier dev/test environement without ever leaving the comfort and safety of their laptop.  This changes a key part of the process.

Today, when a developer creates an Enterprise application it may be represented as a set of Java EAR or WAR files.  However, in order to operate, these archive files require a complex recipe of hardware/software/network dependencies that must be re-created by the test team, and then re-created again by the deployment team.  The definition of this environment should (ideally) include middleware versions, operating system versions (with patch levels), network connectivity requirements and many other variables.  If any of these are not duplicated exactly the software may not function correctly.

Now, consider the scenario where the developer doesn't simple hand off a set of application files and a recipe.  Instead the developer hands off a completely configured machine -- an exact copy of the one used by the developer to code and unit-test the software!  This machine can be encapsulated inside a virtual hard disk file with a small amount of machine readible meta data that describes the parameters of the virtual system.  This "machine" can then be dropped unchanged into the hardened staging and deployment environments.  No longer would the deployment team now be responsible for scripting (even with the assistance of various tools) the construction (from bare metal!) of the application's environment.  This could really change the game.


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


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