Sun advances its virtualization strategy

Sun introduces six initiatives aimed at bringing virtualization capabilities to enterprises

Sun Microsystems is offering several new virtualization services to customers that one analyst says amounts to the first overall "virtualization strategy" from the company.

Sun on Tuesday will introduce six initiatives to bring virtualization capabilities to enterprises. Virtualization refers to managing a datacenter holistically by running different operating systems or applications on the same physical server simultaneously and automatically assigning additional servers to a task as demand grows.

To facilitate virtualization, Sun is offering SunFire T1000 and T2000 servers that can run multiple operating systems simultaneously and integrating XenSource open source virtualization software into Sun's Solaris 10 OS. Sun is also upgrading its Galaxy line of x64-class servers with the newest Advanced Micro Devices processors and offering free two-day customer workshops on virtualization. Sun will also provide longer term education and support for virtualization and extend VMWare virtualization software support to the SunFire x4600 and Sun Blade servers.

"What we are saying is that we have a complete portfolio of choices for virtualization, not just one product or service," said Pradeep Parmar, product line business manager for Sun's Network Systems Group. "We believe that offering this portfolio positions us very well."

Some enterprise customers are still trying to understand what virtualization is and how to implement it and the latest Sun announcements address those issues, said John Rymer, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

"It’s the first time Sun has put together a virtualization strategy," Rymer said. "Sun has been approaching this piecemeal and now ... they will coordinate various developments so different strategies would work together."

One of the virtues of virtualization is making better use of a company's server base by running multiple programs and operating systems on one piece of hardware. Previously, one server would be dedicated to running just one program, often using only 15 percent to 20 percent of its capacity. Through virtualization, a company can add workload without spending more on servers.

Joyent provides Web-based services for small businesses, including management of e-mail, calendar, contacts and file storage. Virtualization on Sun's technology allows the company to use every one of its servers to its full capacity, said David Young, chief executive officer of the company. "We've been able to double our customer base without doubling our server base," Young said.

But even as companies like Sun pursue their virtualization strategies, the market is still in its early stages of development, said analyst Rymer.

Sun and competitors like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Dell, along with software companies like VMWare, are largely focused on virtualization in the server environment. Although some have individual virtualization products for application software or storage, the industry has yet to comprehensively address virtualization of the storage, middleware, applications software or networking environments. "My sense of it is that all of them have been operating on a piecemeal mode," Rymer said.

A lot of enterprise customers "think virtualization equals VMWare," he says, but there are many more components to virtualization. Although virtualization will help better manage IT infrastructure, there is still some confusion in the marketplace about what it all means. "This is like rocket science," Rymer said.

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