Foxes, chickens and the tricky world of server consolidation

Remember the old brain-teaser about the man with a fox, a chicken and a bag of grain who needs to get them all across a river but can’t get them all in his boat at once? He has to work out a way to move all three so that none of them becomes another one’s lunch. Server consolidation can be like that


You want to consolidate three applications on one server. But one is a legacy system that runs on Windows NT 4.0. The second is a newer application that can run on Windows Server 2000 or 2003, but not Windows NT. It’s also mission-critical, and your third application crashes from time to time, and takes the server down with it, which is not so serious for application three but would be if it affected application two as well.

The answer is virtual server technology, which divides one machine into two or more virtual machines, possibly running different operating systems.

VMWare Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., company recently acquired by EMC Corp., was one pioneer of virtual server technology for systems based on Intel Corp. processors. Michael Mullany, VMWare’s vice-president of marketing, says that with servers growing more powerful, few applications need the horsepower of a four-way system.

“”Several of our customers have literally thousands of servers that are all running at between five and 15 per cent of their capacity.””

Dividing a large mainframe into multiple virtual machines is nothing new, notes Gordon Haff, senior analyst at research firm Illuminata, Inc., in Nashua, N.H., but software like VMWare has brought the idea into the mainstream for Intel-based servers.

VMWare’s chief rival is Microsoft Corp., which last year acquired virtual server technology from Connectix Corp. Now in beta testing, Microsoft’s virtual server offering should be available by mid-year, says Eric Berg, group product manager in the Windows Server Division at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

Roy Southby, director of technology services for the Interior Health Authority in Kelowna, B.C., says he is looking forward to the Microsoft product because it will enable the authority to consolidate older applications that are only certified to run on Windows NT with applications that use newer versions of Windows.

Microsoft’s virtual server will run on Windows Server 2003 and host any “”guest”” operating system that runs on Intel processors, though Microsoft will only support its own software.

VMWare’s software runs on any Intel-based server and supports every variety of Windows from NT to 2003, Linux and Novell Inc.’s NetWare, Mullany says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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