Linux startup debuts virtual computing environment

Virtual Iron Software, a small startup, will formally debut its virtual computing environment that enables administrators in a corporate IT shop to link Linux-based servers into a network and allow them to function more like a mainframe.

The company's Virtual Iron VFe helps administrators more flexibly deal with peak load processing by allowing them to "hot swap" in and out a wide range of on demand server-based technologies.

"This environment allows you to treat all servers in the datacenter as a collection of building blocks, instead of as independently managed systems where users typically overbuy capacity to handle peak loads. It can allow users to put together adaptable virtual servers and those virtual servers can be anything from a fraction of a server to large multiprocessors up on the grid," said Scott Davis, founder and CTO of the company.

With the delivery of Virtual Iron VFe, expected in late May, Davis said he believes he can offer a solution to a problem that many IT shops have been grappling with, namely the ability to virtualize more than one physical server at the datacenter level. The future belongs to those technologies that can work with multiple physical servers, he contended.

Davis believes virtualization products that work only on one server at a time, even those in the open source community, will become a commodity over the short term.

"Where there is a technology barrier right now is in being able to create one big server out of many by sharing processors, memory, and other resources. With [VFe], if you have an application that needs more processors, you just go to a management station and drag over another node and drop it. We see that as the real allocation of computing power," Davis said.

The company sees VFe as a complementary technology to the on demand and adaptive enterprise technologies of IBM and Hewlett-Packard, respectively, that can provide bridges to make those sometimes competing products work cooperatively.

"We are in the adaptive infrastructure and utility computing space, but we can bring all these products together that others have and make them work in a comprehensive way," Davis said.

Some corporate users who have either installed on demand products or are currently evaluating them, said a technology like Virtual Iron VFe could prove useful to them, but they would need to thoroughly test it within their existing environments for compatibility and reliability.

"A product like this can end up touching a lot of important applications we depend on heavily here. I'd have to make sure the product itself is rock solid, and that it can work and play well with everything else we have here without too much supervision," said John Mahoney, a LAN administrator with a large Chicago-based financial institution.

Virtual VFe, which works with Intel's x86-based Xeon chips as well as Advanced Micro Devices's Operton in configurations up to 128 dual-processor servers, will compete with a number of different virtualization technologies now being offered by VMWare and Microsoft.

Version 1.0 of the product, scheduled to be delivered in late May, will initially support both Red Hat and Novell-SuSE's versions of Linux. Company officials said they plan to deliver a Windows-based version of the environment, although decline to say when they might deliver it.

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