Oracle revs Xen VM to 2.2

Halfway to Virtually Ironed release

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As part of the OpenWorld extravaganza in San Francisco this week, Oracle has kicked out the expected Oracle VM 2.2 release of its homegrown Xen server virtualization software.

Oracle VM 2.2 is an interim step as it moves toward a converged server virtualization stack that makes use of the management features of the Virtual Iron tools it bought in May. The software was actually in beta before the deal closed, and as El Reg reported back in July, Oracle had to quickly add some features to the Oracle VM 2.2 stack to make it more friendly to Virtual Iron customers, since Oracle's implementation of the Xen hypervisor and its VMs are not compatible with the VM format used by the Virtual Iron variant of Xen.

Oracle VM Server 2.2, which is the full name of the hypervisor, is based on the open source Xen 3.4 hypervisor, and it uses Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.3 as the new Dom0 for the hypervisor to boot on bare server metal. By moving to a cut-down Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.3, VM Server 2.2 can now support the latest server processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, including all of the tweaks to virtualization electronics they put into the VT-d and AMD-V instructions and features for their latest Nehalem and Istanbul processors.

The Xen 3.4 hypervisor is also more aware of the power-saving features in the latest x64 chips, but it is unclear exactly how Oracle is making use of them. In fact, the management framework that Virtual Iron had created for provisioning and decommissioning VMs and physical servers in a network of machines was the main reason Oracle snapped up struggling Virtual Iron before someone else did. (That means you, Citrix Systems).

The 2.2 release has updates to the Oracle-sponsored and open source OCFS2 clustered file system, allowing for quicker VM provisioning and cloning through a feature called sparse file support. The hypoervisor has also been tweaked to support multipathing for storage arrays that have such functions, which not only provides resiliency for getting data into Xen VMs, but also can speed up the I/O performance for the applications residing in the VMs (just as multipathing does for physical servers).

As previously reported, the Oracle VM Server 2.2 update also has CPU capping technologies culled from the Virtual Iron product - but not the full power management stack. With power capping, system administrators can set the maximum percentage of CPU resources that a Xen VM can consume, and then manage utilization with caps across a collection of VMs such that service level agreements for performance and capacity can be best met. This power capping feature, which is part of the Oracle VM Manager companion to VM Server, already had features to throttle disk I/O and network bandwidth.

Most significantly for Virtual Iron customers who are stuck in limbo at the moment, the 2.2 release of the Oracle VM software has a virtual-to-virtual (V2V) conversion tool that takes Virtual Iron VHD images and translates them into Oracle's own Xen disk image format. Customers have to quiesce their VMs in the Virtual Iron hypervisor, convert them, and then bring them up inside of Oracle VM Server. You can't convert them on the fly as part of a live migration. (Although that would be a neat feature, no doubt).

According to the datasheet for VM Server 2.2, which you can see here, the Oracle hypervisor stack supports both hardware virtualized and paravirtualized guest operating systems on both 32-bit and 64-bit x64 processors. As you might expect, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, 4, and 5 and Oracle Enterprise Linux 4 and 5 (just clones of RHEL 4 and 5) as well as Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Server 2008 SP1 are supported as guest operating systems. But Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is not (although there is no technical reason why it should not run) and neither is the recently introduced SP2 for Windows Server 2008.

The VM Server 2.2 hypervisor can itself support up to 1 TB of main memory and a maximum of 64 logical CPUs (that should mean cores, not threads or sockets, but virtualization vendors are usually vague on what they mean by logical CPUs). A VM running atop VM Server 2.2 can span as many as 32 logical CPUs and 63 GB of virtual memory on 32-bit servers and 510 GB of virtual memory on 64-bit servers. The updated hypervisor supports up to 128 virtual disks and up to 31 virtual network interfaces for paravirtualized operating systems and 8 vNICs for hardware virtualized operating systems running inside the Xen VMs.

Oracle VM Server 2.2 is distributed for free, as is the new V2V conversion tool for VMs created to run on Virtual Iron hypervisors. (You can download both here). But support for the Oracle hypervisor is not free. A premier limited support contract for Oracle VM costs $599 per year. It is only available on single- or dual-socket servers. A support contract for larger machines, called a premier contract by Oracle, costs $1,199 per year and covers a server with an unlimited number of processor sockets.

As far as anyone knows, the converged Oracle VM 3.0 stack, which will have all the goodies of the Virtual Iron stack wrapped around Oracle's Xen implementation, is still on track for delivery some time in the first half of 2010. Oracle VM 3.0 will have the dynamic power and capacity management code derived from Virtual Iron as well as its APIs and management tools and automate network and storage configuration features.

Between this week's launch of Oracle VM 2.2 and the impending 3.0 release, Oracle has promised that it will put out a more sophisticated Virtual Iron migration assistant than the V2V tools, although it has warned that this tool will not automate the conversion process, as many Virtual Iron customers probably want. ®

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