Convirture goes open core with 2.0 virt tools

vCenter for KVM and Xen

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Convirture has unveiled a management tool for open source hypervisors.

It's been clear from the beginning of the server virtualization wave that eventually the hypervisor would become commoditized and that the real action, in terms of functionality as well as in money, would come with the management tools that wrap around the hypervisor and make it sit up and bark.

While Microsoft's Hyper-V has its System Center and hypervisor extensions from partner Citrix Systems - and VMware has its vCenter and a number of players (like IBM with its vControl feature for its Systems Director) are trying to span all hypervisors - the open source Xen and KVM hypervisors are left out in the cold. Which is why Convirture has cooked up an enterprise-class management tool for these open source hypervisors with its ConVirt 2.0 Enterprise, launched today.

If you have never heard of the ConVirt tool – or Convirture, the company behind the project – you are not alone. The open source hypervisor management tool project has kept a relatively low profile since it was founded in 2006 by Arsalan Farooq, currently chief executive officer of Convirture, and Jaydeep Marfatia, executive vice president at the company.

The ConVirt 1.X tools have been downloaded over 30,000 times and are included in Ubuntu, openSUSE, Debian, and other Linux distros. But according to Farooq, the Xen and KVM hypervisors commonly – one might say enthusiastically and even damned near exclusively – used by Linux shops (or the Linux racks in big organizations) have lacked a common and sophisticated management tool that spans the different Xen and KVM implementations.

Sure, Red Hat has done much with its libvirt tools, first for Xen and then for KVM. But as the comments in any story run on The Reg have pointed out time and again, the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers management tool for KVM images on RHEL or the standalone RHEV hypervisor are essentially rebadged versions of Qumranet's Windows-based, .NET-developed management tools. And as you might expect, Linux shops and open source purists bristle at the idea of having to use Windows to manage virtual machines.

So Convirture has spent years building out the tools that wrap around ConVirt 2.0 Open Source, which became generally available in Mach, preparing for the day when it would move to an open core product and actually try make some money. (With open core projects, the core tool is open source and freely distributed to foment a community of developers and users, but the most sophisticated extensions to the software that make it worth money to enterprises are kept closed source and are distributed as binaries with subscription or perpetual license fees). With ConVirt 2.0 Enterprise, Convirture is ready to bring some order to the Xen and KVM server hypervisor stack.

"What we have created is basically vCenter for the rest of us," says Farooq. He says that VMware is not just popular on Windows because Windows servers dominate data centers, but because VMware has tuned its ESX Server hypervisor specifically to support Windows and does a less than stellar job supporting Linux.

The numbers bear this out. Linux had attained about 20 per cent server sales for the past several years, but depending on who you ask, anywhere from 90 to 95 per cent of the servers that VMware sells its ESX Server hypervisor on have Windows as their primary operating system. In many ways, the Linux servers, Windows servers, and other servers within a data center are separate kingdoms, supporting different workloads and using different tools.

Linux admins are not generally happy about using anything other than Xen or KVM to virtualize their machines, especially considering that a Xen or KVM hypervisor (or both) are bundled into their Linux distros. Ditto for libvirt, ConVirt, and other hypervisor management tools. Shelling out big bucks to VMware is insane are far as Linux admins are concerned. And until Red Hat gets a proper Linux-based, open source management console for RHEV out the door, many Linux shops are going to turn up their noses.

In many cases, Linux shops have been scripting their own VM management tools. Some 80 per cent of beta testers for ConVirt 2.0 (both the enterprise and open source editions) told Convirture they had hacked together their own tools. They didn't necessarily want to do it, but felt they had to do it.

By spanning all KVMs and Xens and having lots of bells and whistles like vCenter, Convirture thinks its ConVirt 2.0 Enterprise can be the tool that unites them all. The ConVirt 2.0 Open Source edition is the basic platform, a real product that provides basic administration of a Xen or KVM hypervisor using a web interface that front ends a repository and has an agent-less architecture for managing hypervisors and VMs. The open source version of the tool allows multiple administrators to share responsibility for a pool of servers and has a templating system for provisioning VM images.

It also includes an application appliance browser, does thin storage provisioning for VMs, provides historical usage data and configuration information for VMs, and does drag-and-drop live migration of VMs. Companies can rely on the free community support for ConVirt 2.0 Open Source, or pay Convirture for incident-based support or shell out money for a 24x7 subscription package with 15 incidents. The support contract is for an unlimited number of server hosts and costs $2,495 per year.

The Enterprise edition of ConVirt 2.0 adds in timetable-based provisioning and decommissioning of VMs based on what people have scheduled in cloudy infrastructure environments, as well as role-based access control for admins and multi-tenant security. (This is the cloudy part of the toolset). The Enterprise edition also has a command line interface, access to programmable APIs, and high availability and disaster recovery overlays for the Xen and KVM hypervisors, resource limiting, a virtual appliance catalog for self-service VM deployment, and alerting and notification features to bug the heck out of admins when they are trying to play Crysis. ConVirt 2.0 Enterprise does scheduled and online backups of VM snapshots and can restore images when something goes awry.

ConVirt 2.0 Enterprise is available today, and costs $1,495 per host for up to ten server hosts. That price includes software license fees as well as the first year of support and maintenance, the latter of which represents about 20 per cent of the initial subscription cost. ®

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