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Virtualization boosts Linux adoption big-time

Despite mixed-OS and virtual machine management problems, virtualization will drive adoption of server-side Linux, making it a great theme for LinuxWorld 2007, says Hyperic CEO Javier Soltero.

Virtualization is and will be a top driver of enterprise Linux adoption, so it's the right theme for LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, according to Hyperic Inc. CEO Javier Soltero. Server consolidation and virtual appliance initiatives will lead users to Linux, which offers a leaner, easier-to-use virtualization platform than other operating systems, he said.

For more on the LinuxWorld 2007 conference:
LinuxWorld and NGDC Conferences 2007: News, trends and tutorial coverage

Open source and mission critical: The Linux application server landscape

In this interview with prior to the LinuxWorld 2007 conference, Soltero offered his views on virtualization's impact on Linux and systems management, as well as mixed-operating system and virtual machine (VM) management problems,. San Francisco-based Hyperic will be discussing new customer wins and showing Hyperic HQ, an open source IT management suite, at LinuxWorld. Hyperic recently integrated its application programming interface with open source software stacks from JBoss and MySQL. What will the impact of virtualization be, and what has it been on Linux adoption?
Javier Soltero: Virtualization is the most likely technology and technology trend that will have an impact on the adoption of Linux servers in the enterprise. We're at the very beginning of this effect since virtualization itself is taking hold in large-scale data centers just this year. Over time it will be even more.

Virtualization is the most likely … technology trend that will have an impact on the adoption of Linux servers.
Javier Soltero, 
CEO,Hyperic Inc.

The two main reasons for this are server consolidation efforts around existing apps -- which can run in a leaner, virtualized Linux data center -- and the impact of virtual appliances built on Linux, running inside virtualization technologies such as XenSource Inc. and VMware Inc..

Linux is the OS of choice for all virtual appliance building and is an OS that is sufficiently lightweight to fit into multiple virtual machines. Virtual appliances are a completely new medium of software distribution, and 99% of virtual appliances will be run on Linux because of cost and [lack of] licensing restrictions.

What will the impact of virtualization be, and what has it been on systems management?
Virtualization represents a compartmentalization of workloads, which can potentially lead to unmanageable sprawl in the data center. The reason for this is that by making it easy to virtualize whole software stacks -- previously on dedicated physical hardware -- you create an incentive for more apps to be packaged along with OSes (operating systems) and supporting components, all of which need to be managed. You remove the one obstacle standing in the way of haphazard application rollouts: the fact that you need to rack a physical box, or boxes, in a data center to roll an application out.

The reason this is a challenge for systems management is that all system management solutions to date have dealt with helping the customer virtualize, not [with] the aftermath of a virtualized environment.

Being able to fit 10 physical servers into one virtualized server is a success on the cooling, power, and floor space front, but not necessarily a success in the performance and reliability front. Just because your hypervisor of choice says those 10 machines run as happy VMs on your four-way VMware ESX server doesn't mean that the applications inside those virtual machines are performing. [What's needed is] monitoring and managing the physical host, the virtualization layer, the guest OS and its applications. Without this information and capability, the customer will have a tough time measuring the effectiveness of the virtualization initiative.

Have you encountered IT shops that are having trouble earmarking, documenting and tracking their virtual machines?
Yes, including our own data center. VMware's tooling helps some of this by centralizing the management of VMs and the virtual infrastructure through their VMware's VirtualCenter offerings. What's not being done is keeping track of the applications running inside the various VMs. This goes to the problem in my earlier answer.

Preventing sprawl in virtualized environments is difficult when there are too many incentives to blindly virtualize as much as possible. There needs to be a balance driven by the service-level requirements the business places on the apps, whether they're virtualized or not.

In your experience, what is the worst problem IT managers have when managing a multi-platform environment?
The biggest problem is the lack of expertise in managing heterogeneous environments. People have historically been trained as Unix/Linux-admins or as Windows admins. The tooling used in either environment is very different. Few vendors have tackled the technology and market challenge of developing tools for heterogeneous management.

The mind-sets of the developers of apps that run on either of these two camps are also an important factor. Windows applications (server or otherwise) live by a completely different model of delivery and maintenance than their Unix counterparts. Hence it's tough to imagine applying the same skill set for both.

What practices are IT managers using to address these problems?
Java arguably is an important bridge across this divide since there's an opportunity to do heavy lifting in either Unix or Windows environments running Java. Unfortunately, Microsoft's historical must-have-it-all attitude toward app development has created unnecessary murkiness with regard to encouraging the development of cross-platform, server-side Java applications on Windows. Luckily, this trend seems to be changing a bit lately.

What about open source options?
There is a scarcity of options in the management space. Open source management technologies have been by and for open source environments only, historically. Nagios, the leading monitoring project, does not run on Windows. In order to monitor Windows products, you have to go through a lot of work, which is – coincidentally -- totally counter to the Windows user experience.

Email Jan Stafford with your comments and suggestions.

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