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Brit outfit rolls own virtual server appliances

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Pre-tuned hardware

The VMC appliances come pretuned, right out of the box, for either VMware ESXi or ESX Server 4.0 or 4.1 or Citrix Systems XenServer 5.5 or 5.6. The tunings are important, so you have to order the right machine – although the tunings can be changed, of course, if you switch hypervisors.

The performance and performance per watt improvements that VMC is claiming that its "precise design" approach yields are significant. Using the Geekbench suite of virtualization benchmarks, Barnett says that a two-socket VMC 1200 appliance with 24 cores (that's a 1U box) can deliver 80 per cent of the virty performance of a four-socket Hewlett-Packard DL580 G7 using eight-core Xeon 7500 processors ¬– and do so burning 30 per cent less power and taking up one quarter of the rack space.

Another way of saying this is that four VMC 1200 appliances will do more than three times the VM hosting as the DL580 G7, and do so in the same space. More importantly when it comes to software pricing, the VMC appliance has half as many sockets as the DL580 G7, and that can radically lower the cost of VMware vSphere server virtualization tools.

Of course, Intel has just goosed the processors used in this machine with ten-core Xeon E7 processors, so the DL580 G7 can now have 40 cores and twice as much main memory and this comparison is already history. But it is illustrative, nonetheless, of what VMC is trying to accomplish with its appliance designs.

Under our control

You might be thinking: How do the VMC appliances link into VMware's vCenter console and into Citrix Systems' XenServer console, which are used to manage the hypervisors and all of their add-on goodies. Barnett gave a very funny, and once you think about it, a very logical answer:

"They don't," he said with a laugh. "We need to have this sort of thing under our control."

Again, here comes some experience in the telecom and HPC business. Barnett said that rather than try to support two different toolsets for controlling the appliances, based on whether they use ESX Server or XenServer as the hypervisor layer, VMC created its own console, called the Virtual Estate Manager, that talks directly to the APIs in these two hypervisors and, from an administrator's point of view, masks the differences.

This approach will make it easier to support Microsoft's Hyper-V and Red Hat's KVM hypervisors down the road when customers start asking for them, and it will mean that VMC's customers won't have to master a new tool. You can, of course, use vCenter and XenCenter if you want to.

The VMC appliances do not include the cost of the hypervisors, which you need to license from VMware or Citrix. It does include the Virtual Estate Manager, which monitors both the physical and virtual performance of the appliances.

The company also tosses in a year of free In-Cloud Services, which is remote babysitting of the appliances performed by VMC's remote monitoring systems. The In-Cloud service can also remotely host any of your VMs in the event that you need to take your own appliances down for maintenance. ®

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