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3Tera in virtual Windows server mating call

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When 3Tera was launched back in 2004, one of the big buzzwords was utility computing, which had just trumped grid computing as the hot new thing. Today, we have cloud computing, and that's the word so many companies - including 3Tera - are wrapping their marketing efforts around. But 3Tera and its AppLogic virtual infrastructure management tool keep doing what they've always done, even as the buzzwords change.

The AppLogic tool is used to virtualize Linux and Solaris instances on x64 iron and manage the processor, memory, network, and storage capacities of the underlying hardware as a giant pool of computing. The processor and memory virtualization is done through the use of the open source variant of the Xen hypervisor, and 3Tera invented its own I/O and network virtualization software because back in 2004, there weren't any commercial alternatives for x64 servers. (Some say, there still aren't, but Xsigo has some neat I/O virtualization going on).

3Tera started out virtualizing resources for Linux instances on networks of physical servers. In June of this year, with AppLogic 2.3, the company added support for Solaris 10 instances on x64 iron because some big customers asked for it. That is not usually enough of a reason for an operating system port, but with Solaris being a Unix operating system - and therefore like Linux in many ways - it was a tidier and easier port to do compared to Windows. This week, with the beta of AppLogic 2.4, 3Tera is readying its support for virtualized Windows servers.

Because Windows is so dominate in corporate data centers - and out there among the service provider customers where 3Tera currently gets most of its revenue - adding Windows support is a big deal. According to Peter Nickolov, 3Tera's president and chief operating officer, support for Windows Server 2003 with the AppLogic virtualization environment is out now, and Windows Server 2008 gets added in about a month and a half in the beta.

Changes in the registry at the heart of Windows made the 2008 releases take a little more time. Presumably, the final version of the code supporting Windows will be available probably in the beginning of the year. It depends on the outcome of the beta test.

Incidentally, AppLogic doesn't support VMware's ESX Server hypervisor or Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor as the underlying CPU and memory virtualization technology. Bert Armijo, vice president of marketing at 3Tera, says that ESX Server is missing some features that the AppLogic platform needs - features that 3Tera has in fact contributed to the open source Xen hypervisor.

And because service providers and enterprise customers are keen on having commercial support and its own efforts at tweaking Xen are redundant with those of Citrix Systems, which bought XenSource, the corporate entity that controls the Xen project, a little more than a year ago, 3Tera will be shifting from its home-grown Xen hypervisor to the newly announced XenServer Cloud Edition from Citrix.

IBM 360 support?

As for what its customers are actually virtualizing these days using the AppLogic tool: Customers can use any Linux with a 2.6 kernel, but CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Debian are the most popular Linuxes used by AppLogic users, with a smattering of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. So far, no one has deployed on Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

When the suggestion that AIX or HP-UX would get support on their respective Power and Itanium iron, Nickolov quipped that 3Tera would do that just before it supports IBM's 360/OS mainframe platform, but then said there was no technical reason why support for other architectures couldn't happen. (They just won't unless customers ask for it and are willing to pay for it - as if Sparc/Solaris support doesn't exist either).

Having only the x64 architecture and a Xen hypervisor plus its own network and disk virtualization simplifies its support tasks and covers a very large part of the server market. It does, however, lessen the appeal of AppLogic, since there is a lot of other kinds of iron out there generating big bucks despite relatively small numbers of footprints - systems that could use a single point of virtualization control too.

The main reason why the 350 current customers like AppLogic, according to Armijo, is that it allows for virtual machines to be moved around not just within a data center's racks of servers, but across multiple, geographically distributed data centers - and without requiring virtual machines to all be linked to each other through a storage area network, like many hypervisor management stacks require.

What this means is that you get many of the benefits of the server virtualization management tools that VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix are peddling. But you can do virtualization consistently across Linux, Solaris, and soon Windows with the same tools - and without having to pay a lot of dough for add-ons. A basic license to AppLogic for an entry development grid of servers costs $499 for hosting providers, while a license for the full product costs $1,299 per server. For commercial customers wanting to license the code, the price is $125 per server per month. ®

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