Exclusive: Virtual enlightenment through Xen
VirtualIron taps promising open source virtualization standardFollow @pvenezia
When the hosts PXEboot, they run a highly modified Linux kernel and no console, so there’s no need for any KVM on the server, because there’s nothing to see and no way to access the system other than through the Virtual Iron management console. Disks local to these servers are available, as are any NICs and HBAs that are supported by the Virtual Iron kernel. In the testing I was able to conduct in Virtual Iron’s labs, this included Emulex and QLogic 2Gb FC (Fibre Channel) HBAs, SATA, and SCSI disk, and Intel and Broadcom NICs.
Once booted, these servers are visible from within Virtual Iron’s Java-based management application, which lays out hosts and virtual servers in an easily digestible hierarchy. The interface is quirky, requiring that every action be followed by clicking the Commit button, which becomes annoying after awhile, and the flow stutters in places, but it’s otherwise functional.
Room to grow
Creating a virtual server entails essentially choosing the number of CPUs, RAM size, and specifying disk resources to be used, much like VMware. Prior to the 3.1 release, however, the disk resources were required to be either an FC LUN or local disk resource. No virtual disk support existed. With 3.1, vDisks conforming to Microsoft’s standard are supported, making deployment easier.
On the downside, there’s no iSCSI SAN or NFS support, so if you’re lacking a Fiber Channel SAN, you’re forced to use local disk, and this precludes the use of the LiveMigration, LiveRecovery, and LiveMaintenance features.
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In addition, LiveCapacity will dynamically migrate VMs between hosts to distribute the overall load evenly among all hardware resources, such as VMware’s DRS (Distributed Resource Scheduler). All of these features worked in my copy of the 3.1 beta.
So what’s lacking? Polish, performance, and the little bits around the edges. The console interaction provided by Virtual Iron 3.1 is fair for Windows guests, but quite sloppy for Linux guests running X11. This is rather surprising, but mouse tracking under Windows is far superior. Of course, most Linux guests won’t be running X11, which mitigates this problem somewhat.
Also missing is VM snapshot support, as well as basic backup tools. Coupled with the lack of iSCSI and NFS support, very basic network configurations, questionable I/O performance, and the obvious wet-behind-the-ears feel of the package, it may be a bit of a hard sell for production use.
But then, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I believe that the lack of these features is more reflective of “haven’t gotten there yet” rather than “won’t get there,” and it certainly seems that Virtual Iron is well on its way to becoming a true competitor in the virtualization world. If the next release — slated for first quarter 2007 — manages to address these issues, the company may find that market open wide, especially because at $499 per processor, a full Virtual Iron 3.1 license costs a fraction of a comparable VMware license. In short, if Virtual Iron can keep up this pace, it’s definitely a contender.