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Sun Microsystems' virtualization in limbo

Sun Logical Domains is one of the many virtualization technologies that IBM will have to rationalize if it buys Sun Microsystems.

If IBM finally does buy Sun Microsystems, the computing giant will have a load of different virtualization technologies to comb over: VirtualBox, xVM, Solaris Containers and, last but not least, Logical Domains (LDoms).

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But because LDom virtualization is a feature of Sun UltraSparc-based CoolThreads servers, its future is in jeopardy, said Gordon Haff, a principal analyst at Illuminata Inc. Sun Sparc competes with IBM's Power processor, and LDoms are "roughly analogous" to Power's dynamic logical partitioning (DLPAR), he said. "It's possible Sparc could be a casualty [of the acquisition], because that's an area [in which] IBM already has a big investment. It's hard to imagine IBM continuing Sparc."

That said, even if IBM does decide to phase out Sparc, "it won't happen overnight," and the company will do what it takes to move the platform gracefully over to IBM, Haff added, if only "because they want to tap into those customers."

At the same time, LDoms may be one of the features that helps Sun customers extend the useful life of their Sparc systems regardless of the vendor's status. For example, Eagle Investment Systems in Newton, Mass. plans to deploy between 60 and 80 new Solaris instances within LDoms on existing hardware this year, said Mike Fitzgerald, vice president, helping to meet its goal of maintaining its data center footprint at 7,000 square feet.

The company, an independent software vendor and application service provider (ASP) focused on the financial services industry, will use LDoms mainly in its R&D operations, which maintains versions of its applications going back eight years to satisfy its risk-averse and change-resistant customers.

With Sun's help, Eagle will start by deploying five Solaris instances per system, eventually working its way up to as many as 25 instances per system. "Sun is coaching us rather than telling us what to do," Fitzgerald said, adding that "every app is different."

Eagle also uses Sun Sparc kit in its hosted ASP business, although its commitment to that platform there is less firm. "We continue to see a price/performance advantage with the Sun kit," Fitzgerald said, but if need be, "we have the ability to be agile" and explore alternate platform combinations such as Oracle running on x86 Linux.

For the time being though, Eagle will stay with Sun equipment, and try to trim costs by renegotiating memory pricing. Whatever happens with IBM, there's a substantial installed base of Sun gear running important businesses, and that will not be ripped and replaced in the near term.

"There's still so much Sun equipment out in the marketplace," Fitzgerald said. "We're not at the point of doing a Plan B yet."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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