Virtualization According to Sun

Arthur Cole

Microsoft has taken the lion's share of headlines in the run-up to VMworld next week, but Redmond isn't the only powerhouse touting a bold virtualization strategy.


Sun Microsystems is looking to stake a significant claim on what is widely expected to be the de facto data center technology for the next decade. The company is pitching its own virtual infrastructure, complete with hypervisor, OS support, centralized management and a desktop option, to rival anything that Microsoft or VMware can dish up.


According to this article by Jon Oltsik, who sat down with top company execs recently, the idea is to use the new xVM platform to shore up Solaris' utility as a virtual environment first, and then use its prowess in open source development, along with broad third-party integration, to expand beyond its traditional base and into the wider enterprise market.


It's not a bad plan, and points up that virtualization is remaking the enterprise from the ground up, allowing vendors of all stripes to raid each others' traditional customer base in what is essentially a new IT industry.


The heart of the strategy is the xVM hypervisor and the Ops Center management framework. Both systems hold most, if not all, of the bells and whistles that VMware, Microsoft, et al, offer on their platforms, but Sun has one crucial difference: It makes physical servers as well. That means xVM fits nicely on the SPARC/Solaris platform, but can run equally well on x86, which brings in Windows, Linux and Unix.


All of this makes Sun a top competitor, and at the moment at least, the company seems to be gravitating toward the Microsoft camp in its war against VMware. Sun, in fact, is partnering with Microsoft in both virtualization and cloud technology, which both companies say are two pieces of the same pie. And both are pointing out that as OS vendors, they have the upper hand when it comes to serving the enterprise.


For Sun, though, the real struggle against VMware is likely to follow the initial period of server virtualization, heating up in the desktop virtualization phase. It's here that Sun is looking to push beyond VMware with the xVM VirtualBox. The system, acquired from Innotek a few months ago, is likely to go head-to-head with the VMware Workstation, with Sun taking its usual free, mostly open, approach to counter Workstation's expensive but feature-laden format.


How all this will shake out is anybody's guess. Virtualization technology is so fluid at this point that all the top dogs could be put to shame by an as-yet unknown start-up by this time next year. For the moment, though, it's important to remember that Sun is a viable alternative in the virtual wars.

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