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VMware's open source doppelganger gets cloudy

Convirture does Amazon, Eucalyptus, OpenStack

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Convirture – an outfit that has long offered tools for managing open source hypervisors – will soon release a new version of its (partially) open source software that also oversees the use of various "infrastructure clouds", including Amazon EC2 as well as similar but private services based on platforms such as Eucalyptus and OpenStack.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco-based company uncloaked ConVirt Enterprise Cloud, a super-set of its existing open source platform, ConVirt Open Source. Founder and CEO Arsalan Farooq tells The Register that this commercially licensed product will be released in September, pitching it as a way for enterprises to consolidate the use of their entire virtualized infrastructure – or at least large pieces of it – under one piece of software.

"When enterprises want to start dabbling in the cloud, they're faced with the prospect of adopting yet another standalone, silo-ed piece of infrastructure," Farooq says. "We move thus to a single, unified console."

In 2006, Convirture began work on an open source tool for managing Xen hypervisors, and the tool was eventually expanded to KVM as well, before it was formally released in 2009. The idea was to provide the open source world with the equivalent of VMware's vCenter, the suite of tools used to manage the virtualization giant's decidedly closed source hypervisor. "We wanted to create VMware vCenter for the rest of us," Farooq is fond of saying. "Think of it as vCenter for the non-VMware hypervisor set."

Initially, Farooq and company made their money merely by offering support and services for the open source tool, which is available under the GPL. Then, about a year ago, the company began selling a commercial version of the software – ConVirt Enterprise – designed to operate more reliably and at a larger scale.

The company adopted an "open core" model, offering a completely open source platform alongside a for-pay product that wraps proprietary software around that freely available core. Farooq says the enterprise package matches about 90 per cent of tools included with VMware vCenter – "we absolutely go head-to-head with that 90 per cent," he says – and pricing for the package begins at $1495 per host for use with up to ten hosts.

With ConVirt Enterprise Cloud, the company will add a second for-pay offering. It too is built around the company's core open source software, and according to Farooq, enterprises can readily upgrade from the company's existing tools to the new incarnation of the platform. "Our products are on a continuum," he says. "It's just one piece of software layered atop another."

In addition to juggling hypervisors, the new package lets you manage what the world insists on calling clouds. Farooq acknowledges that the term is less than precise, but in this case, it refers to Amazon EC2 and efforts to mimic EC2 inside private data centers. In short, these "infrastructure clouds" provide access to readily scalable computing resources – including processing power, storage, and networking – from an online console.

The new ConVirt lets administrators manage their Xen and KVM hypervisors as well as Amazon EC2 accounts and private services they've built with Eucalyptus and OpenStack. But it also gives end users access to the resources served up by EC2, Eucalyptus, and OpenStack.

The tool provides a single console for both adminstrators and end users, and this will behave differently depending who is logging in.

Plus, Farooq says, it can "convert existing virtualization infrastructure into cloud infrastructure". You can take a raw KVM or XEN setup, he says, and transform it into something akin to what you get with Amazon EC2. In cases like these, it's exceedingly difficult to find the line between the cloud speak and the real live cloud technology, but at the very least, this conversion will let end users – as opposed to admins – provision their own processing power, storage, and networking resources.

"Cloud is not a technology," Farooq says. "It's an operations model."

This is true, but only up to a point. The new operations model does require new technology. Convirture's cloud speak makes a certain amount of sense, but we'll reserve judgment until the arrival of the real live software. The new product debuts in September, and pricing will not be revealed until then. ®

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