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HP surprises itself with virtual Exchange servers

VMware lovey dovey

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As the volume leader in the x64 server racket, Hewlett-Packard was an early and enthusiastic supporter of VMware and its ESX Server hypervisor for virtualizing servers. But with HP (or rather, Compaq) having long ago established that systems management is one of the key control points in a customer account - and VMware wanting to get more into management tools - the potential for head butting is pretty high.

IT shops don't like head-butting any more than they like finger pointing when something goes wrong, of course, which is why HP was all lovey dovey as it made announcements this week at the VMworld 2008 show in Las Vegas.

HP owns the entire virtualization stack on its Itanium-based Integrity server line, so it doesn't have to partner. Said another way, VMware and Citrix Systems are not supporting Itanium processors with their respective ESX Server and XenServer hypervisors, leaving HP little choice but to create the Integrity Virtual Machine hypervisor from code buried inside HP-UX. Integrity VMs support HP-UX, Linux, Windows, and OpenVMS partitions on Integrity iron and are distinct from the vPar and nPar partitions that HP 9000 servers had.

In any event, HP says that its Insight Dynamics VSE systems management tool, which provisions and manages physical and virtual servers, can interact with and integrate with VMware's VirtualCenter tool, which manages the ESX Server hypervisor and its add-ons. The exact nature of this integration was not detailed, but what users of both sets of tools undoubtedly want is to have all the features of both with whatever interface they are used to seeing - and to be blissfully unaware that there are two tools at work.

With more companies wanting to virtualize Windows and Exchange Server setups to provide fault tolerance and disaster recovery, HP has launched the Virtual Exchange Infrastructure service to help customers plan and implement a virtualized Exchange Server 2007 email and groupware setup running atop VMware's Infrastructure suite of tools (which includes ESX Server for carving up VMs on the iron and management tools to care and feed them). HP says that it can show companies how to virtualize and consolidate their Exchange setups without interrupting day-to-day operations.

"It is somewhat surprising to me the number of people who are interested in this," explains Doug Strain, marketing manager for software in HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers group. "I assumed that our large customers would be more interested in doing bare metal Exchange Servers, and while it is still early days for virtualized Exchange, there is definitely a lot of interest."

One of the reasons why companies might be willing to virtualize big email and database workloads is because the x64 architecture now has hardware-assisted processor, memory, and I/O virtualization that allows VMs to be run without such a punishing performance penalty.

On the disaster recovery front, HP and VMware have integrated their respective tools so they work together on VMs. Specifically, VMware's Site Recovery Manager add-on for ESX Server now knows how to play nicely with HP's Continuous Access Replication software in its EVA midrange disk arrays, which replicates data between mirrored disk arrays. According to Strain, about 85 percent of the virtualized environments that HP has setup using ProLiant and BladeSystem X64 iron for customers uses some kind of shared storage (NAS, iSCSI, or Fibre Channel SAN), and most people probably assume it is all running on high-end XP arrays.

Not so. The midrange EVA arrays, which marry well with the two-socket servers that are for now the standard virtualization iron, are getting a lot more traction. And HP's low-end MSA arrays do not have the recovery and storage virtualization features that enable a DR setup.

Another key EVA feature now certified to deal with VMware VMs is Data Protector, which backs up software onto tape. Data Protector now waits for VMware's Consolidated Backup, which gathers all the copies of VMs into one place, before shoving archives out onto tape.

HP also said that its thin clients have been certified to be supported by VMware's Virtual Desktop Manager 2.1 software, a management program for virtualized PCs being fed from server instances to thin clients. HP announced a set of virtual desktop services to help customers figure out how to get rid of PCs and replace them with servers fronted by thin clients.

Strain says that every HP account he goes into is using virtual PCs, often called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI, and not to be confused with using a hypervisor on a single PC. Most companies HP is talking to are doing pilot projects or testing it in small groups, with the typical implementation having a few hundred thin clients dressing up as virtual PCs. All told, Strain thinks there are fewer than 1 million virtual PCs out there - which means there is a long way to go before this VDI idea goes mainstream. ®

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