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Fastscale puts VMware on a diet

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Just a few months after de-stealthing, software maker Fastscale has updated the user interface of its flagship product and, more importantly, added a new package for managing VMware virtual servers.

Fastscale stands as one of the more unique virtualization-type companies out there. It relies on a repository of OSes, applications, libraries, configuration files and drivers to send out lightweight software bundles to servers. An administrator, for example, can tell the Fastscale management server to fire up a box with WebLogic running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and the repository will deliver all the goods out to the hardware on its own.

The real magic of Fastscale's technology goes beyond this basic provisioning. The company has created super thin versions of operating systems and applications by stripping out most of the general purpose software components. If you want to run WebLogic on Red Hat, Fastscale will install an anorexic version of Red Hat that has only what it needs to run an application server. In many cases, Fastscale can craft OS and application images that consume only MBs of space, as opposed to GBs. We've explained the technology in more detail here.

At the end of this month, Fastscale will ship Version 1.5 of its Composer Suite. The new release includes AJAX additions that automatically refresh the status of servers and various settings instead of requiring a manual refresh as in the past. In addition, there are some better foldering and sorting options to make keeping track of tens or hundreds servers easier. Lastly, there's a revamped CLI (command line interface) that will permit an admin to perform just about every function, rather than requiring the GUI for some tasks. CLI zealots rejoice.

The bigger deal here, however, is the release of Fastscale Virtual Manager. This product lets Fastscale customers manage VMware's core products, including ESX Server, VMware Server and Workstation.

The VMware support works a bit differently in that copies of VMware's software are not stored in the Fastscale repository. Instead, it's assumed that a box is already running ESX Server or another VMware product.

Still, Fastscale can offer some provisioning advantages. For example, it can create virtual machines and then send down its lightweight application bundles.

"Because of our small memory footprint, we can actually run about three times more virtual machines per physical server than a standard configuration without degradation in performance," Fastscale's CEO Lynn LeBlanc told us. "We're also often able to run out of memory, so we don't have the overhead of I/O from going to hard disks."

Using a two-socket server with four-core chips and just 4GB of memory, Fastscale reckons it can boot about 40 virtual machines in the time it usually takes to boot a single VM. Lovely stuff.

The Virtual Manager product also has a tool for sizing virtual machine disk images (VMDKs) on-the-fly to match OS and application needs.

Just about every software start-up wants to form strong ties with VMware, and now Fastscale has made its play. You'd be foolish to ignore today's darling, right?

Fastscale remains a Linux-only thang but has Windows support scheduled to arrive in the fourth quarter. It also plans to support the Xen hypervisor in the fourth quarter in conjunction with its support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. "We have pushed out our Solaris plans solely because we have not had customer demand," LeBlanc said.

The Composer Suite, including the management server and repository, starts at $30,000. You'll pay another $20,000 for the Virtual Manager. Fastscale's pricing model also has some ins and outs around licenses based on numbers of provisioned nodes, but you'll have to sort that out with the company. ®

Bootnote

Incidentally, we gave Fastscale some serious grief for refusing to show us a product demo at the recent Linux World trade show. LeBlanc has been nothing but a class act since this took place and has vowed to give us a personal demonstration of the Composer Suite at the upcoming VMworld conference.

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