Parallels bares all with server hypervisor

A peek at naked x64 metal

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After nearly a year in beta testing and seven months after its bare metal hypervisor project went public in March, desktop and server virtualization software maker Parallels today launches its first bare metal hypervisor for servers.

With Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal, Parallels joins the ranks of VMware, Citrix Systems, Microsoft, and Oracle (if you could its reworking of Xen and its Virtual Iron acquisition) in delivering a so-called type 1 or bare metal hypervisor for x64 servers.

With a bare metal hypervisor, the hypervisor is loaded by a baby operating system kernel and is, for all intents and purposes, a layer of firmware that partitions and virtualizes the server that separate and often incompatible operating systems can be loaded upon using virtual machines and run side-by-side, sharing processors, memory, and I/O. This is in contrast to type 2 or hosted hypervisors, which load atop a running operating system (usually Windows or Linux on x64 iron) and then provide an abstraction layer that allows VMs to run atop that.

With the type 2 hypervisor, the underlying operating system is a single point of failure, and the hypervisor is subjected to the foibles and security of the underlying OS. With the bare metal hypervisor, it is running right on the iron and it is in theory more secure, more reliable, and more efficient.

Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal has the feeds and speeds that El Reg told you to expect back in the spring. According to Jack Zubarev, one of the founders at Parallels who is also president of the company's service provider division, says that the bare metal hypervisor is derived from the extreme workstation and desktop PC hypervisors that Parallels launched in April and September, respectively.

These hypervisors make use of the VT-x and AMD-V virtualization electronics that Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have baked into their most recent chips, which does a lot of the work that a hypervisor had to do in software before and does it a lot more efficiently. The bare metal hypervisor is the culmination of four years of work, which originally started out as a type 2 hypervisor for Apple Macs.

The bare metal server hypervisor announced today can support as many as 64 processor sockets (not cores, sockets) in a single x64 system image, and can address up to 512 GB of physical main memory. (VMware's ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, which is the one to beat in this server racket, can't come anywhere close to this in terms of socket scalability.) Once that hypervisor is plunked on the machine, a VM running atop Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal can span as many as 12 processor cores (or as little as a fraction of one, if you so choose) and up to 64 GB of virtual memory and 2 TB of virtual disk capacity.

While the bare metal hypervisor will work with either Intel or AMD x64 processors, Zubarev says that the hypervisor has been tuned to take advantage of Intel-specific technologies, such as VT for directed I/O (VT-d I/O), FlexPriority, extended page tables, and virtual processor identification to goose the performance of the hypervisor when running on Xeon chips.

Parallels' bare metal hypervisor can support guest operating systems running in either 32-bit or 64-bit mode, including just about every Windows and Linux variant you can think of, according to Zubarev - we're talking Windows NT 3.5 SP3 ancient - as well as FreeBSD Unix. The hypervisor itself is loaded onto a machine using a homegrown baby Linux kernel, which is replaced by the hypervisor as it loads.

Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal is not just a bare metal hypervisor with VMs, but also includes the Parallels Virtuozzo Containers virtual private server (VPS) virtualization technique. With the VPS approach, you take an operating system like Windows or Linux and take a shared kernel and file system and place software sandboxes on top of them that look and feel like separate operating systems, even though they are accessing the same kernel and file system. (This isn't the way techies describe it, but you can think of VPSes as a type 1.5 hypervisor of sorts.)

Anyway, the new Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal allows containers to run side-by-side with hypervisor VMs, or in some cases, users may even deploy containers within the operating systems running in the virtual machines running on top of the hypervisor to give another layer of virtualization granularity.

Parallels has more than 5,000 service provider customers who have over one million Virtuozzo containers in production, and the company wants to peddle its bare metal hypervisors to service providers who are looking for more isolation than the VPS approach offers. Zubarev says that Parallels is also keen on selling its new hypervisor to companies and governments looking for a cheaper alternative to VMware's ESX Server and something that has different kinds of virtualization and the automation tools (in this case, Parallels Virtual Automation 4.5, which is used to manage VMs and VPSes alike) built into the price.

To that end, Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal standard edition costs $999 per physical server, with no limits on the number of virtual machines or processors supported. Gold level support costs $199 per server per year and platinum support costs $249 per server per year. The advanced edition of the bare metal hypervisor adds in Parallels Containers for Linux, and costs $1,500 per server. The company has also created a small business edition that takes out the multi-user Web console and the Virtual Automation tools (which are not necessary for standalone machines), tossed in gold level support for the whole shebang that costs $499 per server. (It is not clear what part of that $499 is the license and what part is support.) For service provider customers who resell computing resources (generally to small and medium businesses), the new hypervisor is sold on a per VM or per container basis, with prices starting at $5 per VM or container per month and with discounts scaling to 40 per cent off as the number of VMs or containers rises.

Parallels is also announcing today that Virtuozzo Containers 4.5 for Windows will support Windows Server 2008. Licenses for this software costs $1,500 per server processor socket. Service providers can pay for containers on a per month basis for Windows machines, with prices in the range of $7 per month each for a 10-container package and falling to $2.50 per month each for a 100 container bundle. The more you buy, the cheaper each monthly fee gets.

Bootnote: the edition and pricing information for the bare metal hypervisor has been updated after Parallels provided more detailed information. ®

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