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Contributing Writer

Wired over server virtualization

Jun 21, 20044 mins
IBMNetworkingServer Virtualization

HP, IBM, Sun and VMware are charging up their server lines with virtualization. Understanding how each approach would work in your new data center is no easy task.

HP, IBM, Sun and VMware are charging up their server lines with virtualization. Understanding how each approach would work in your new data center is no easy task.


Virtualization defined: Get used to the word “grid” if you want to understand Sun’s approach to server virtualization, which is just one component of the company’s N1 Grid strategy. N1 Grid – which refers to “managing ‘n’ computers as ‘1’ ” – is Sun’s vision for optimizing network computing. Within that grand plan, the N1 Grid System includes all the core services for establishing, partitioning, provisioning and managing grids in accordance with business policies. It also enables data center virtualization, including storage, servers and software.

Scaling up

Sun lets users “scale up” or “scale out” server resources, although its future intention is to manage both environments under one umbrella.

For users who prefer to pool server resources onto one large system, Sun has long offered hardware partitioning through its dynamic system domains and a rudimentary level of software partitioning through the Solaris 9 operating system. By early next year, it plans on offering logical partitioning through N1 Grid Containers on Solaris 10.

With N1 Grid Containers, users will be able to create multiple software partitions on one instance of Solaris 10. They will be able to create up to 4,000 fault-isolated software partitions (or “containers”), each with its own IP address, memory space, file area, host name and root password. The system will dynamically adjust resources to business goals within and across the partitions. And because the containers are separate from the hardware, they easily can be moved onto other systems.

The technology will be available for all Sun server platforms, including UltraSPARC- and x86-based systems and Sun’s mixed-architecture (x86 and SPARC) Sun Fire Blade.

Scaling out

With a “scale up” strategy, you make a shared resource look distributed; with “scale-out,” you make distributed resources look shared.

To accomplish this, you have to go beyond the operating system, says Shahin Khan, vice president of high-performance technical computing at Sun. “If I have 24 boxes, I want to throw a single software blanket on top so they all look like one box,” he says. “The applications now only see the blanket, and the blanket sees the underlying hardware.” The only problem is, today the blanket is more like a quilt with some patches missing.

Which brings us back to Sun’s still-developing N1 Grid initiative, which is coming together with the help of Sun’s recent acquisitions of CenterRun, Terraspring and Gridware. The pieces of the N1 Grid system that enable server virtualization include the following:

  • N1 Grid Console, which is the consolidated point of management for all servers in the grid.

  • N1 Grid Service Provisioning System 4.1 (made possible through the CenterRun acquisition), which provisions applications across servers, using an optimization engine to balance workloads. It also does automatic server installation, configuration and updating. It runs on Solaris SPARC and Solaris x86, Linux and Windows machines and can manage Solaris, Linux, AIX and Windows servers.

  • N1 Grid Engine software (made possible through the Gridware acquisition), which aggregates available computing resources and delivers them as a network service, enabling five to 10 times the usable power of servers on the network.

  • The N1 Data Platform, which virtualizes the storage capacity of multiple arrays.

  • N1 Grid Provisioning Server 3.1 Blades Edition (made possible through the Terraspring acquisition), which is a management environment for the Sun Fire Blade Platform. It lets users design, configure, provision and scale blade-based server farms automatically as one pool of virtualized resources.

Analyst view:

“Sun has scaled back its grander N1 ambitions and is focusing its cross-system virtualization and provisioning efforts around its CenterRun acquisition,” Illuminata’s Haff says. “At the single-system level, Solaris 10’s N1 Grid Containers could help plug a hole left by Sun’s prior reliance solely on physical partitioning techniques.”

Other analysts, such as Enterprise Management Associates’ Ehr, fault Sun on its lack of a heterogeneous solution.

User view:

A major North American financial services provider with more than 34,000 employees, which asked not to be named, uses N1 Grid Engine software to compute investment portfolio data. The main grid runs with the Sun Fire 4800 server and the Sun Fire V880 server as a grid cluster, and a Sun StorEdge 3910 stores the data.

Investment portfolio data is gathered into the system at night, and then simulations and other relevant computations are run, are parallelized for the grid. Results are amalgamated and prepared for reports by 9 a.m. the next business day. The company says it has reduced IT costs and improved its return on assets.

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