Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2474

When we're not up to our ears in lab research, we - the European branch of AnandTech - like to increase our knowledge of subjects in some classier ways. For example, by traveling down to Cannes to cover VMware's first VMworld conference in Europe, taking place in the palais des festivals, especially known for its annual hosting of the film festival. The conference hosted over 4500 visitors and 96 exhibitors, and tons of hour-long sessions were held throughout the 3-day conference (26th - 28th of February).

A view of Cannes' harbor from the balcony of the palais.

Our interest for this mostly software-related conference stems from the technology's amazing potential in the business IT-market, which is a subject we definitely don't want to keep from our readers.

A bit of info on VMware may be interesting at this point, so here's a quick rundown. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2008, VMware employs over 5000 people worldwide in 54 offices, and offers its virtualization services to over 100.000 customers. It's easily the biggest player in the field at this point, and is still working on strengthening that position through partnerships with many of the big hardware manufacturers.

Yours truly eagerly awaiting the start of the conference…

Virtualization has come a very long way in the past couple of years, and VMware's efforts to push this technology into every segment of the business IT world has encouraged many companies to start experimenting with it. Thanks to that, many new ways have been discovered to integrate virtualization in a way that makes the environment even more flexible, and some of those interesting new takes were displayed at VMworld. In this article, we've bundled together coverage of some of the items we saw, summarized here:

  • IBM breaks a Microsoft Exchange performance record with the use of ESX
  • BEA rocking the Java world with LiquidVM
  • Parallels offering their own take on virtualization with a suite of products for several platforms
  • Richard McDougall offers some insights on running databases in a virtualized environment

We've tried to cover as many bases as possible, but the vast amount of subjects made complete coverage impossible. Definitely check out Johan's IT blogs and article for his experiences, though. Now let's take a closer look at the above items.

IBM Performing "Miracles" with ESX

Though most of the opening keynote of VMworld was a succession of major VMware partners patting themselves on the back, we found ourselves quite charmed by some of the more technical successes announced. Interesting to note is that HP, Dell, and IBM all announced support and complete integration of ESX Server 3i with some of their hardware platforms, making the choice of supported hardware for an ESX machine a lot easier.

One of the biggest arguments against virtualization is its impact on the performance of the virtualized system. While this is justified in some cases, we see more and more examples popping up where a virtual environment can yield better results on identical hardware. In the server market, where cores are ever increasing and the amount of RAM is no longer heavily limited, we begin to see the software lagging behind. Writing software that can actually take advantage of the ever-scaling hardware platforms is no easy task, and this is exactly where a virtual environment can provide answers.

This is what IBM tried to make clear to us in their short presentation. They've run some large-scale capacity tests on a Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 system, and have come to interesting conclusions.

According to Microsoft's guidelines, an Exchange Server with the mailbox role assigned supports up to a maximum of 8 cores and 32GB of RAM. As seen in the picture, the hardware used in the test easily exceeds those specifications.

IBM tried using virtualization to utilize the full extent of the hardware by dividing the resources into manageable packages for the software. Using eight virtual machines with two cores each, they were able to get double the number of mailboxes running on the same hardware. Because each VM can only "see" two virtual CPUs, the software running on them functions every bit as efficiently as on a regular dual-core machine.

Combining these VM's strength allows for increased efficiency in resource management, which can be achieved with just a little creativity.

We think this is a very interesting approach to the use of virtualization, especially considering the ever-increasing complexity of hardware systems. Providing a layer of abstraction between the hardware and software layers protects and enhances both, allowing for not only more creative systems, but also more efficient ones.

BEA rocking the Java world with LiquidVM

In a session led by BEA, we had a look at their plans for Java. A press release earlier that day announced their collaboration with VMware on providing Java Virtualization for hypervisor environments. The company has developed a Java Virtual Machine that is able to run right on top of the hypervisor, doing away with the need to install an operating system on the virtual machine.

BEA's explanatory overview of how the LiquidVM removes the need for a full OS for Java applications

This "Virtual Edition" of their WebLogic Server software provides a Java "shell" that communicates with the hypervisor in much the same way it would communicate with a standard OS. They call the technology a form of paravirtualized Java, since the LiquidVM is "aware" of its virtualized state and can be managed from the outside by the WebLogic Operations Control. This allows for application-specific resource management, enabling administrators to allocate resources dynamically, depending on the needs of their applications.

During VMworld, a press release came out stating that VMware will soon be including the LiquidVM VI client into their Virtual Infrastructure product line, allowing their customers to manage Java applications from within the VI user interface.

Parallels Offers Their Take on Virtualization

In a market so heavily dominated by VMware, it may be surprising to see another company trying to offer its own hardware virtualization solutions. Mainly targeting SMBs and the home market with their product line, Parallels wants to make virtualization available to everyone, providing a range of products in several types of virtualization.

From their point of view, virtualization has served two important goals so far:

  1. Development and Testing: Due to its perfectly isolated nature, OS-based hardware virtualization is perfect for this. It provides a solid playground for developers looking for a safe and realistic environment where they can unleash their applications.
  2. Consolidation: This is where hypervisor-based virtualization comes in, allowing for efficient and flexible consolidation of legacy systems, bundling together of small-footprint servers, and powerful management of all these virtual machines.

While Parallels does offer products for both kinds of virtualization, where they really want to make a difference is in what they view as the next big step in virtualization: Providing a platform for what they call the "Virtualized Data Center", making use of VDI and Hosted IT in combination with the two above technologies.

To accomplish this, they are currently building a suite of tools to support this way of working on as many platforms as possible: Mac users may already be familiar with their OS-based hardware virtualization software known as Parallels Desktop for Mac, while Parallels Workstation has been available for Windows and Linux users for a while now.

Paired with their freshly introduced Parallels Server platform and the newly acquired Virtuozzo OS virtualization software, they believe they can cover all bases perfectly. Parallels Server will be available for all platforms and is hypervisor-based. On top of that, it will also be able to run OS X Server virtualized, making it the very first virtualization solution in which this is possible (and allowed).

To provide full integration between these products and even third-party solutions, the company is working hard on a full range of automation products, aiming for a powerful and centralized management system.

Parallel's view of the virtualization market and how their products fit into every category.

What about Virtualized Databases?

In a very interesting session led by VMware's Richard McDougall, we were provided with some insight on running databases in virtualized environments. The session mainly involved Oracle, but according to McDougall, they've found the pointers discussed apply to any database system. Right from the start, McDougall did away with some of the most common performance myths and misconceptions, and listed quite a few positives to the use of ESX and Virtual Infrastructure, paired with databases.

When thinking about virtualized databases, many believe them to be too IO intensive to run efficiently, and as such provide too much overhead. While these concerns are definitely justified, VMware strongly believes that ESX's strong IO subsystem can handle any database satisfactorily and provide a large amount of extra possibilities that should be enough to convince any database analyst to at least try it.

Making use of a single system to run several databases can be quite a fragile setup, and putting platform-specific high availability systems in place can be a costly endeavor. It's for this reason that VMware's "one system fits all" solution might prove very interesting. Apart from the possibility of using VMotion, Dynamic Resource Scheduling, and VMware HA on the systems, there's the option to easily provide powerful isolation, without the need to buy a new system for every database.

For optimal performance on a virtualized platform, VMware offers the following tuning recommendations:

  • Always use a 64-bit database
  • Try to assign enough memory to the VM to cache the entire database and reduce the amount of IO
  • Make use of Direct-IO uncached pass-through capabilities and Asynchronous I/O (if possible)
  • Use large MMU pages
  • Most importantly, optimize the actual storage layout (such as the number of disk spindles). This will have the largest impact.
  • For Oracle, the log files should be put on the very fastest piece of storage available, preferably dedicated to this task.

At this point, we have not been able to do any actual tests on a setup like this in our lab, but we'll be sure to share our experiences with it once we get around to it. More information on VMware's performance testing can be found at their blog: VROOM!


We were really able to appreciate the diversity and depth some of the sessions provided at VMworld. Hidden between the impossible-to-avoid marketing talks that happen at these conferences were some real treasures. Although VMware hosted the conference, it felt more like an open forum for virtualization in general.

It's exciting to see more and more companies shifting their focus to the technology, and the more we look into it, the more we become convinced that the use of virtualization will soon be present in every datacenter.

While this article only touched on a few of the vast array of options currently in development, there are many other interesting changes happening. For more on the things we learned at VMworld, be sure to check the IT blogs and Johan's upcoming article.

In closing, VMworld was a great conference at a wonderful location. We're looking forward to the next one!

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now