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Nimbula stretches Director to VMware ESXi clouds

Hyper-V when enough customers ask

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Thus far, Amazon's EC2 compute cloud is the standard for virty server infrastructure running on what amounts to a public utility. But there are two problems with it: you can't run your own EC2, and Amazon doesn't support VMware's ESXi hypervisor, which is the hypervisor of choice for x86 servers in corporate data centers. But that's OK. Nimbula is perfectly happy to clone EC2 for you.

Amazon has been emphatic in saying that it doesn't want to be in the private cloud business, so you can't go onto Amazon's retail site and buy a stack of identical infrastructure that is used underneath the EC2 service and have it running in your own data center. (This, when you think about it, is silly, but Amazon has its reasons and it may yet offer such private cloud chunks.)

But if you want to run an EC2-like cloud for your data, you do have some options, including the Eucalyptus 3 framework, from Eucalyptus Systems, which supports the EC2 APIs as well as VMware's ESXi and ESX Server hypervisors and the vSphere management extensions and the KVM and Xen hypervisors. (Amazon EC2 itself is built using a variant of Xen.) The other option, if you want private EC2-like clouds that run ESX and KVM, comes from Nimbula, which has just cranked its Nimbula Director cloud controller to the 2.0 release.

With Nimbula Director 2.0, the company is adding support for the bare-bones ESXi hypervisor from VMware, so now the cloud controller can give you a private EC2 that supports VMware's virtualization right beside the KVM hypervisor. Reza Malekzadeh, vice-president of marketing at Nimbula, tells El Reg that Director 2.0 can reach out and control ESXi 4.0, 4.1 and 5.0 - and because Nimbula is controlling the hypervisor and its apps in the Nimbula way, you don't have to buy a vSphere management tool stack, the vCenter management console, or other VMware tools.

Nimbula was founded in 2008 and came out of stealth mode in June 2010. It knows EC2 because some of the key people who built the cloud at Amazon Web Services founded the company. Chris Pinkham, Nimbula's CEO, was formerly vice-president of engineering at Amazon.com and one of the founders of the EC2 project, and Willem van Biljon, vice-president of products at the startup, led the EC2 development team.

The Nimbula Director 1.0 software came out in April 2011 and it supported the KVM hypervisor initially. (Nimbula grabs the CentOS clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and rolls it up with its cloud controller, but if you have licenses to the real RHEL, you can point Director at them and it works just the same.)

Director also supports the open source Xen hypervisor if you want to use that (or the commercial-grade XenServer from Citrix Systems if you have it), but does not yet support Microsoft's Hyper-V. Malekzadeh would not say when or if Hyper-V will be added to the mix, but clearly, if enough customers are willing to pay for it, then Nimbula will do it. Nimbula 1.5, announced last August, included a storage service akin to Amazon's Elastic Block Storage (EBS) service, so EC2 applications that use EBS can be moved back and forth between the real EC2 and the fake one you have running in your data center.

In addition to pushing around VMware's ESXi like a control freak, Director 2.0 also supports VMware's Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service application framework. This code can be launched onto virtual machines in a Nimbula cloud with a single click and maintained through the same mechanisms as Nimbula itself, and is aware that it is running on a cloud. Nimbula has also added OpenVPN and DNS server services to Director; these two apps are culled from the Linux stack and these can be invoked with a click and in a consistent way, rather than having admins do a manual install each time they want to add such services to an OS on a VM.

Another change that comes with Director 2.0 is better application management. With the prior Director releases, admins created a launch plan, a kind of container describing all of the components of a virtual machine and then launched it out onto the Nimbula cloud. This was static data that described the state of the VM before it launched, and with the new release, that launch plan is now dynamic and Director uses it to see what is going on with the VM as it runs, becoming an orchestration and monitoring tool for the VM and its applications.

Director 2.0 is in beta now and will start shipping in March. Nimbula doesn't offer crippleware or timed trials to get people to kick the tires on the code, but rather lets them get the real production code and run it on a cluster of machines with fewer than 40 x86 cores for free. If you have 40 or more cores, you have to pay to use Nimbula. It costs $300 per core per year for a subscription to the code; that price includes the license and the support charges. ®

High performance access to file storage

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