January 17, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Companies push Linux partitioning effort

A push is under way to endow Linux with a virtual partitioning technology used by rival operating systems to make servers more efficient.

SWsoft is trying to get OpenVZ made part of the mainstream Linux kernel--the software at the heart of the operating system--and a part of the major commercial Linux versions, said Kirill Korotaev, a project manager at the Herndon, Va.-based company.

In this, it has a major ally: Red Hat, the top seller of the open-source operating system, which plans to add the software to its free Fedora version of Linux for enthusiasts.


What's new:
SWsoft is trying to get OpenVZ virtualization made part of the mainstream Linux kernel, which would align it with rival operating systems that have the efficient-server technology.

Bottom line:
Acceptance into the kernel would likely bring major Linux backers to OpenVZ. But the effort faces a number of challenges, analysts say.

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The companies' move to make OpenVZ partitioning standard in Linux is timely, said Pund-IT analyst Charles King.

"I believe virtualization is a current or coming fact of life for every information technology vendor," King said. "Vendors who figure out how to easily integrate virtualization features into their solutions will have a leg-up on competitors."

Over the years, new ways to carve a single server into separate sections have been introduced. Such divisions make it easier to run multiple independent tasks on a machine, keeping it gainfully employed instead of letting it idle through operational lulls. That increase in efficiency means collections of underutilized servers can be replaced with a smaller number of machines, lowering administration and operation costs.

Many of the several ways to subdivide a server rely on virtualization, which breaks the hard link between software and the lower-level software or hardware on which it runs. The software's real foundation is replaced with a virtual one, but the operating system or higher-level software thinks it's running on the real thing.

Using its own take on virtualization, OpenVZ divides a single copy of Linux so it appears to be several independent instances of the operating system, from the perspective of higher-level software. Separate domains, called virtual private servers, can be independently rebooted--though in reality, the underlying operating system stays up and running.

OpenVZ's approach isn't new; the same process has been used elsewhere. For example, Sun Microsystems' Solaris was given a similar feature, called containers, when version 10 was launched a year ago. Before that, developers added a related technology, called "jails," to the FreeBSD version of Unix. IBM's Serge Hallyn has been working on jails for Linux, a variation of BSD's jails.

And OpenVZ isn't even the first major virtual private server software project for Linux. That position goes to Vserver, an open-source package that's used in Positive Software's FreeVPS product.

But OpenVZ has the advantage over Vserver, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "OpenVZ is an offshoot of a well-regarded commercial product that's used by quite a few large hosting providers, so it's clearly the more mature," he said. OpenVZ is an open-source underpinning to Virtuozzo, sold by SWsoft, the main backer of the Linux push.


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