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"All Things Virtual"

I recently spoke with Vijay Sarathy, Senior Director for Sun xVM at Sun Microsystems, about Sun's virtualization strategy. This strategy includes the impressive piece of software Sun recently acquired through its purchase of innotek -- VirtualBox. In particular, VirtualBox 1.6 has just been released, which adds support for Macintosh and Solaris host platforms, new high-performance virtual devices, improved scalability and Web services, and optional support for "seamless mode." In this mode, the windows of applications running within a guest OS run alongside applications running on the host OS.

VirtualBox is just part of Sun's xVM product line. Sun xVM is an umbrella brand for its virtualization and management software built around the concept of virtualization. It consists of four key components:

  • xVM Server, a cross-platform, highly efficient, open source hypervisor capable of hosting multiple operating systems.
  • xVM Ops Center, a datacenter automation tool that simplifies discovery, provisioning, updates, and management of physical and virtualized assets in cross-platform Linux and Solaris OS-based x86 and SPARC environments.
  • xVM VDI, a secure virtual desktop environment on a wide variety of client devices, from traditional PCs to Sun Ray virtual display clients.
  • xVM VirtualBox (described above).

xVM Server (Enterprise)

xVM Server is bare-metal hypervisor, versus the host-based one used in VirtualBox, marketed as an appliance. It includes the hypervisor, control domain, and management framework in one bundle. It also supports deployment and management via a Browser-based UI or API; there's generally no console access because the experience is meant to be natural to users of Windows, Mac OS X, or an X-Windows based GUI environment.

Currently, Sun has about 8 percent of the virtualization market in x86, where only 5 percent of all servers are virtualized. Their goal is to capture the other 90 percent of the market, and increase the market size altogether. To do this, Sun is taking virtualization to the next level, targeting security, ease-of-use, sandboxing, and issues around I/O. Its analogy is the invention of the wheel versus the invention of the car; the wheel is monumental on its own, but its value increases exponentially as part of a vehicle.

The result is a heterogeneous environment supporting other OSs, but with Solaris features (reliable, secure, and so on) transfered to the hosted OS (i.e., predictive self-healing), with a policy-based management framework. With it, customers will be able to implement a "dynamic datacenter," where servers are split and recombined on-the-fly.

xVM Ops Center (Management Framework)

This component of xVM is about automated lifecycle management; just plug it in, and it bare-metal provisions the hardware, the OS, and your applications. This includes user accounts, OS and software patches, and compliance reporting. The upcoming release (version 2.0) includes a browser-based, platform-indepenant interface that uses Ajax for its rich interactivity. It will contain one interface that combines physical and virtual pools of servers and applications, all of which can be reconfigured on the fly.


xVM VDI is mainly a Sun Secure Global Desktop connector that leverages Sun's Sun Ray thin-client desktops. To be accurate, this component isn't about virtualization at all, but is instead about remote desktop capabilities (the desktop software's UI running on the server is remotely exposed). Sun's offering is different from other vendors' in that it offers a choice of desktop OS. Other differences include:

  • Support for various WAN protocols (i.e., RDP - remote desktop in a browser over a WAN). This enables painless full-screen repainting over WAN protocols.
  • Lifecycle management
  • Role-based provisioning (finance user versus engineer)
  • The ability to monitor guest OS usage and dynamically turn them off to save power

VirtualBox (End-user/Developer)

VirtualBox is about mass adoption, a tool for the brand, and an entry point into the world of virtualization. It has a small footprint and a high-performance hypervisor. Its target audience consists of end users and developers that can use it to test and build cross-platform, multi-tier applications on a desktop. The next logical step for these users is to deploy their enterprise creations on xVM Server. Sun also has an OEM focus for VirtualBox since it's small and can be embedded easily into other software.

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