Sparc and Windows get more love in Oracle VM update

Oracle VM 3.3 supports larger pages and can speed Windows operations with paravirtualized drivers

The latest release of Oracle's software for managing virtual machines offers the same set of features to Sparc users as to those who manage virtual machines on x86 servers.

"With [Oracle VM] 3.3, a big part of the improvement is on the Sparc side," said Wim Coekaerts, Oracle senior vice president for Linux and virtualization engineering. "Both x86 and Sparc servers are on par in terms of functionality from the management console."

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Oracle VM 3.3, released Wednesday, also provides faster performance for Microsoft Windows guests.

Oracle VM is the company's server virtualization product, based on the open-source Xen hypervisor and able to run virtual machines on Windows, Linux or Oracle's own Solaris OSes. The virtual machines can run on either x86 and Sparc servers.

When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, the company wanted to unify the virtualization management for both platforms; Oracle 3.3 goes along way toward fulfilling that task, Coekaerts said.

The company has been working to incorporate all the management features Oracle VM offers to manage x86 hypervisors, so they can be used on Sparc hypervisors as well. A hypervisor is the software used to create and run virtual machines.

"There's a lot of Sparc installed base out there and a lot of customers have been anxiously awaiting a management product on the Unix side," Coekaerts said.

Oracle VM now allows Sparc virtual machines to interact with a wider variety of technologies, including the ability to communicate with local disks and storage arrays that use the iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface). Originally, Sparc virtual machines could only communicate with arrays that used the NSF (Network File Storage) protocol.

The software now provides a single management console for overseeing operations running on x86 and Sparc servers. Previously, separate consoles were needed to manage each. Oracle has also unified the application programming interfaces so that third-party applications and scripts work with Sparc and x86 operations from one set of commands.

The console has been rewritten as a Web application, so it has the same look and feel regardless of what platform accesses the software.

Beyond greater Sparc support, Oracle continues to work on the software to improve performance. This version of the software can load huge pages -- those sized as 2MBs or 4MBs in size -- into memory. To place a virtual machine into memory, typically it is divided up into multiple sections, called pages, that are usually only a few kilobytes in size.

"If you have a huge virtual machine, like say 250GB, then if everything is chopped up into 4 kilobyte pages, then the kernel uses up a lot memory to give each page a reference. If you can put most of the virtual machine into huge pages, then [the kernel] requires 1/1,000th of the amount of memory," Coekaerts said. Simpler memory management especially provides a boost for applications that require low-latency, such as databases.

Oracle has updated its drivers for running Microsoft Windows software in a virtual container. A new set of paravirtual drivers can speed the throughput of data moving to and from the network, and to and from a disk.

"We have a disk driver and a network driver that uses shared pages between the Windows guest and the Xen hypervisor," Coekaerts said.

Oracle also continues its work on incorporating Oracle VM with the open-source OpenStack cloud software. The Oracle technology preview of its own OpenStack distribution now can run Oracle VM 3.3. Oracle has already started incorporating OpenStack into its Solaris distribution.

Additional improvements have been made to the new Oracle VM to simplify operations and improve security.

The last major update of the software was in January 2013. Oracle VM 3.3 was slated to be released in May, but was held for a month for additional testing, Coekaerts said.

Oracle VM is available as a free download.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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