Volume 3, Number 30 -- August 15, 2006

SteelEye Provides Clustering for Linux Partitions, WAN Replication

Published: August 15, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

SteelEye Technology, the maker of high availability clustering software for Linux platforms that expanded into the Windows market to broaden its appeal, is now moving into a new area: virtual machine clustering. With virtual machine technology proliferating and being installed by corporations large and small, clustering software needs to be extended to work with virtual as well as physical machines.

And this week, at the LinuxWorld trade show in San Francisco, SteelEye will unveil LifeKeeper for Linux V6, an update of its Linux clustering software that is now aware of virtual machines. With the update, LifeKeeper can monitor virtual machines residing in various kinds of partitions--including those running on VMware's ESX Server 2.5 and 3.0 hypervisors as well as the integrated Xen 3.0 hypervisor inside the new SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 from Novell. In the event that the software running inside a virtual machine crashes, or the physical server underlying the hypervisors gets taken out, LifeKeeper rolls over end users to replicated virtual machines running on another server.

"We're seeing quite a lot of demand for monitoring and protection for virtual servers," explains Bob Williamson, vice president of products and technology at SteelEye. SteelEye will be showing off virtual machine failover using ESX Server at the VMware booth, and over at the Hewlett-Packard booth, it will be showing off Xen VM clustering using HP iron and SLES 10's integrated Xen VMs.

Incidentally, the VM clustering support does not require that customers cluster virtual machines to virtual machines. In fact, you can cluster the workloads running on a physical machine to a virtual machine if you want to. And, more importantly, you can cluster many physical machines to a single physical machine with many mirrored virtual machines running on it. "This lets customers build what amounts to a failover appliance," says Williamson. "All physical machines can point to a single stack of virtual machines."

This is a very interesting twist on both virtual machine partitioning and clustering for high availability--and something that many companies who are nervous about partitioning are looking for. While the idea of driving up utilization on a single physical server from 15 percent to 70 percent by consolidating many physical machines down using virtual machine hypervisors is very attractive to MIS managers, the risks associated with putting too many server eggs in one basket does not exactly thrill them. High availability clustering of virtual machines could lower that risk substantially.

LifeKeeper for Linux V6 costs $1,800 per physical server, and with the pricing that SteelEye has in place now, you have to buy a license for each virtual machine as if it was a physical machine. SteelEye knows that this is not going to fly in the current market, which is getting increasingly neutral about virtual machines in terms of software pricing. Novell doesn't care how many Linux instances you put on a server with SLES 10--it costs the same $349 if you have one instance or one hundred running inside Xen partitions. Even Microsoft is relatively generous, saying that companies that deploy virtual machines supporting Windows can put up to four instances on a box for the price of one license. In the end, SteelEye will probably have a base server license for LifeKeeper and an additional fee per VM. But Williamson said the company is not done reviewing its options. "We are working intensely to move to a counting model for pricing," he said.

In addition to the VM support in LifeKeeper, SteelEye is also this week announcing Data Replicator V6, its data replication tool for Linux. With this update, changes have been made to the standard Linux 2.6.16 kernel that allow LifeKeeper to provide data replication over wide area networks as well as local area networks. In the past, Data Replicator could only be used over WANs if customers patched the Linux kernel. Over the past 18 months, SteelEye has worked with the Linux kernel maintainers to get the hooks its software needs into Linux. Data Replicator costs $900 per server, and if you buy Data Replicator V6 and LifeKeeper V6 together, you get the two for $2,500, which is a 7 percent discount.

If you haven't heard of SteelEye or LifeKeeper before, it didn't come out of nowhere. In fact, the software behind SteelEye, which was founded in 1999, actually came out of AT&T's Bell Labs, and was used to cluster together the homemade Star Unix servers that Ma Bell created to run its worldwide voice telephone network. AT&T bought computer maker NCR in 1991 for a then-stunning $7.4 billion, and five years later it sold off NCR and Bell Labs (which became Lucent). A few years later, SteelEye bought the clustering technology from NCR, founded itself, and started chasing the booming Linux server business.

After receiving a bunch of venture capital money, SteelEye was able to grow enough to expand from Linux and Windows, but for whatever reason, at the end of May, SteelEye sold itself to a Japanese partner, 10art-ni, for an undisclosed sum. 10art-ni is a Japanese system integrator and distributor that was behind about 90 percent of SteelEye's sales in the Asia/Pacific region, acquired SteelEye for $17 million. The Asia/Pacific market accounted for about a third of SteelEye's sales, according to a report from Aberdeen Group. While SteelEye is a private company, 10art-ni is traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The merged company is operating under the SteelEye name in North America and Europe and under the 10art-ni name in Asia; the resulting company has 220 employees (35 from SteelEye), with offices in Palo Alto, California (its North American headquarters), Columbia, South Carolina and Raleigh, North Carolina (research and development for LifeKeeper products), Cambridge, United Kingdom (European headquarters), and Tokyo, where the company's worldwide headquarters is. SteelEye has sold more than 5,000 licenses of its LifeKeeper software so far, and has strategic relationships with IBM, HP, and SAP.


SteelEye Rolls Out New High Availability Tools for Windows

SteelEye Delivers Update for LifeKeeper Clustering for Linux

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
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