SuperVisor: One hypervisor to virtualize them all

HotLink assumes control

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

And now it's time for the supervisor.

A group of entrepreneurs with expertise in application and server virtualization that sold their last company to EMC have started a new outfit called HotLink, and it's flagship product is a kind of uber-hypervisor.

HotLink's SuperVisor is a clever transformation layer that will sit between server virtualization hypervisors and their management consoles to allow a console to convert VMs automagically from one format to another as well as allowing any of the popular management consoles to take control of the hypervisors that are not compatible with them out of the box.

HotLink was founded last year by Lynn LeBlanc and Richard Offer, the founders of FastScale Technology, which EMC acquired in August 2009 and transferred to its VMware virtualization subsidiary in February 2010.

FastScale's Composer Suite tool launched in April 2007, and it put all of the code you run into production inside of a repository and then, based on watching the code as it runs, created something called a dynamic application bundle, or DAB, only putting in the bits of an operating system, middleware stack, database, and application that get used into the DAB. The idea was to put code bloat on a diet. Composer Suite debuted on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and it was eventually supported on Windows machines and then VMware virtual machines and Amazon's EC2 cloud.

HotLink logo

HotLink's SuperVisor assumes that companies will want to use a variety of different server virtualization hypervisors. The SuperVisor tool also assumes that some workloads will not be virtualized and will run on bare-metal but that companies will want to have the same kind of control over deploying software on physical servers as they do in packaging up VMs with apps and spitting them out onto hypervisors.

Perhaps more importantly, the SuperVisor tool assumes that some administrators will use one set of tools – for example, Microsoft's Systems Center – while others will use VMware's vCenter, Citrix Systems' XenCenter, and Red Hat's Enterprise Virtualization Server and yet they will want to control VMs that are not tightly tied to those tools.

At the moment, of course, server virtualization management consoles are tied very tightly to their hypervisors and they are where a lot of companies make their money on server virtualization. And LeBlanc and Offer want to sever that direct link and use some clever code to trick whatever virtualization management console that companies have into managing all the other hypervisors.

Which is why someone is going to put a hit out on LeBlanc and Offer or very quickly try to acquire the company before this technology gets loose and screws the cash flow up. The latter is much more likely, unless the economy continues to deteriorate.

Console decoupling

The way LeBlanc sees it, you can limit complexity with server virtualization by standardizing on one hypervisor, or you can put a management overlay in front of one virtualization console and use the APIs of that console (say VMware's vCenter) to link into another console (say Microsoft's Systems Center Virtual Machine Monitor). The problem is that all of the capabilities in a native virtualization console are not exposed through their APIs – we know you are shocked, positively shocked, by this – and therefore you end up with something that is functionally constrained. Systems Center can only be as good as the mapping of the vCenter APIs allows it to be when it comes to controlling the ESXi hypervisor alongside controlling Hyper-V.

What HotLink's SuperVisor aims to do is fully decouple the management consoles from the hypervisors, using a bit of code it calls the Transformation Engine to abstract the metadata describing the VMs and their workloads so any VM it can be seen by any server virtualization management console as one of its own. All VMs become cuckoos in each other's console nests.

"Using the SuperVisor plug-in, vCenter cannot tell the difference between VMs running on XenServer, Hyper-V, and ESXi," says LeBlanc. "And this is not another dashboard or another tab in a console. It is a low-level, native integration."

HotLink block diagram

Block diagram of HotLink's SuperVisor (click to enlarge)

The first edition of the HotLink SuperVisor comes out for beta testing on Tuesday, and it will be generally available by the end of the month. It is a plug-in for vCenter that allows it to manage not just its own ESXi hypervisor, but also XenServer, Hyper-V, and KVM hypervisors and their virtual machines. The tool will convert from one format to another and will even do hot and cold migrations between incompatible hypervisors as well as local and remote storage for VMs as they jump from hypervisor to hypervisor.

Next year, HotLink will add a plug-in for Systems Center VMM as well as plug-ins that allow it to manage virtual machines on Amazon's EC2 from vCenter or Systems Center as if they were native as well as any public cloud that is based on VMware's vCloud Director cloud fabric. A plug-in for XenCenter, the console for XenServer, was expected in 2012, but LeBlanc says that Citrix is re-architecting XenCenter and it has to figure out what changes are coming and adapt to them.

Red Hat help

The company is working with Red Hat now to create a plug-in for Enterprise Virtualization, the commercial-grade version of the KVM hypervisor from the Linux distie. Making a plug-in that would allow Amazon's AWS console to control a private cloud is possible, says LeBlanc, but it would be a really big piece of code and would require help from Amazon.

Physical servers will also be brought into the fold. "There's no reason why Windows or Linux can't be treated like any other hypervisor," says LeBlanc. There is also a possibly machines that are not based on x64 processors but which have their own hypervisors (mainframes and Unix boxes particularly) could get supported in the SuperVisor tool. It really depends on what customers want to pay for and how many are willing to pay before the coding can start.

HotLink has other plans beyond server virtualization. "We're starting at the server virtualization layer, but we don't intend to stop there," says LeBlanc. Obviously there are big-time issues that companies are wrestling with as they try to virtualize their storage and networks, too.

The SuperVisor code is not open source, and it is certainly not free. A pilot bundle available now has one SuperVisor server with support to control five hosts that assumes to want to use the ESXi hypervisor and its vCenter console and want to support one other hypervisor. This bundle costs $25,000. Each additional hypervisor that you want to support from vCenter costs an additional $20,000 for the capability and then you have to add host hypervisor licenses in 25 packs, which cost $45,000 (or $1,800 per server).

As HotLink comes out of stealth with its new product, the company announced that it has received $10m in Series A financial from Foundation Capital and Leapfrog Ventures. ®

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