Talking Chalk (and Xen Virtualization) with Sun

Today I attended a Sun Microsystems Chalk Talk on the company’s virtualization plans. The talk centered on two upcoming products from Sun, which ride together under the anagrammatic label xVM.

The Xen-based xVM will allow companies to choose Solaris without rejecting their existing x86 operating systems. If Sun can team xVM Server with an effective management layer (and xVM Ops Center does look promising), then it can earn the opportunity to win back those who’ve forgotten about Solaris in favor of the operating system’s less mature and arguably less capable Linux and Windows rivals.

Today I attended a Sun Microsystems Chalk Talk on the company’s virtualization plans. The talk centered on two upcoming products from Sun, which ride together under the anagrammatic label xVM.

The product duo consists of Sun xVM Server, which is Sun’s long-awaited (by me, at least) Xen hypervisor implementation, and xVM Ops Center, which is a management product for xVM Server instances.

Sun’s been doing a lot of great work in virtualization, but until very recently the relevance of Solaris’ virtual virtues has been limited to companies running Solaris applications–a significant population, to be sure, but too many enterprises depend on Windows and Linux to allow for wholesale adoption of Sun’s technologies.

The BrandZ enhancements that came in the recently shipped update to Solaris allow for running Linux applications within Solaris Containers, but BrandZ is stuck emulating the Linux 2.4 kernel-based RHEL 3, and the technology offers nothing for Windows server shops.

However, the Xen-based xVM will allow companies to choose Solaris without rejecting their existing x86 operating systems. If Sun can team xVM Server with an effective management layer (and xVM Ops Center does look promising), then it can earn the opportunity to win back those who’ve forgotten about Solaris in favor of the operating system’s less mature and arguably less capable Linux and Windows rivals.

For enterprises, Sun’s xVM will mean yet another option for server virtualization to sit alongside VMware’s ESX Server, Microsoft’s “Viridian” and a gaggle of other virtualization products based on the open-source Xen hypervisor project, including Citrix’s XenEnterprise, Virtual Iron’s eponymous product, 3Tera’s AppLogic, and the built-in virtualization platforms from Red Hat, SUSE, Mandriva and pretty much any other Linux distribution that opts to implement it.

We didn’t get to see a whole lot of xVM at the Chalk Talk — for instance, we were played a flash movie of the code in action rather than receiving a proper demo of the running code. However, the xVM code entered the OpenSolaris project back on Sept. 19, and if I had time to run through the byzantine OpenSolaris build process, I could, presumably, try it out for myself right away. Instead, I think I’ll wait for the Nevada 75-based Solaris Community Edition build to hit Sun’s FTP servers to take my first look at xVM.

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On an unrelated note, I was struck by how many of the Sun employees in the room were running Macs. The presentation we were shown was driven by the X11 version of OpenOffice.org.

On the other hand, for the journalists and analysts in attendance, Windows seemed to reign, with the exception, of course, of my own Foresight Linux-powered notebook.

One of truest tests of Sun’s upcoming Linux-like Solaris respin, the one Sun’s calling “Indiana,” will be the extent to which Sun employees will be able to blow their OS X off in favor of Solaris.