FastScale Extends Software Management to VMware Partitions
Corrected: September 25, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Back in April, a startup company called FastScale Technology came out of stealth mode with a different twist on the virtualization game. Rather than virtualize a whole software stack, FastScale Composer Suite builds a stack from the actual bits of software used by applications and puts it in a container; if an application doesn't use a DLL or EXE, it doesn't go into the container. Now, Composer Suite is being extended to put VMware ESX Server virtual machines inside these containers, creating what could be though of as a virtualized virtual machine.
Composer Suite is a tricky bit of software, and given how low-level it plays in a system, it takes a bit for people to get their brains wrapped around the idea. Rather than deploy a stock of software in a persistent manner--meaning that it is tied directly to a specific physical server or virtual--Composer Suite creates an application blueprint, which is used to discover (at runtime and in only a few seconds) what parts of the software stack actually need to be deployed on a server; this is done through a series of algorithms that perform reachability analysis of the application. These pieces of code are deployed in a dynamic application bundle, or DAB, which can include real operating systems or virtual machines. When the product launched in April, it could do real software. Now, it can do ESX Server hypervisors and their related virtual machines.
The DAB approach is interesting in two ways. If any piece of software in the FastScale repository is updated, then next time a DAB is initiated, then any drivers, operating system kernel, libraries, or application modules will be updated in the production environment residing in main memory on a server running the DAB. And if an application is updated and suddenly requires a new feature of the operating system or middleware program that is in the stack, the DAB can reach into the software repository and pull the new features that are required. System administrators can lock down DABs so operating systems cannot be called by viruses or trojans; malware is less meaningless in this DAB approach, since bits of software that might be compromisable in a complete Windows or Linux stack are simply not in the DAB since they are probably not being used. It is not perfect security, but it is, conceptually, a big improvement, since you can't hack what isn't there. One of the more interesting aspects of the FastScale DAB approach to deploying software is that it allows functionally equivalent software stacks to be deployed with a lot less memory. An Apache software stack running on Linux takes about 3 GB, including application code as well as Linux, drivers, and Apache. In a DAB, this Linux-Apache stack shrinks down to 20 MB.
Yesterday, FastScale announced two things. First, it added a new product, called FastScale Virtual Manager. As the name suggests, this extension to Composer Suite is used to deploy DABs as well as the software that companies want to plunk inside DABs inside virtual machines based on VMware's ESX Server hypervisor. The tool can also dynamically size virtual machine disk images on the servers where ESX Server VMs containing DABs are deployed, so the exact amount of disk space is taken up by the running applications and not a byte more. Because of the compression enabled by the DAB approach, Lynn LeBlanc, FastScale's chief executive officer, says that a FastScale-ESX Server combo can cram as many as three times as many virtual machines on a physical server without degrading performance. Using a mix of Apache, MySQL, and DNS workloads, FastScale has demonstrated that it can put 40 VMs on a machine with 4 GB of memory, and 99 VMs on a machine with 8 GB of memory. Moreover, the company has created a fast boot algorithm that allows 40 VMs to be booted on a machine in the same time as it normally takes to start up a single VM on a physical server.
FastScale Virtual Manager will be available on August 31, and it costs $20,000 for a perpetual license per each instance of Composer Suite that it uses. Right now, Virtual Manager can deploy on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, with support for Microsoft Windows coming later this year. Composer Suite costs $30,000, including the cost of the DB2 for Linux database that is used as the DAB repository and 25 deployed DABs.
In addition to the VMware support, Composer Suite was itself updated with Version 1.5 yesterday. The updates allow for Composer to do a better job discovering hardware discoveries out on the network where DABs are deployed. The software also sports a new AJAX-created Web interface that makes it easier to manage large numbers of DABs. The tool also now has a scriptable command interface, for old-style system administrators who do not want to point and click to do their work.
LeBlanc says that FastScale has eleven customers so far, eight in evaluation, and most of them very large accounts managing very large and complex software infrastructure, and has 11 customers evaluating the product.
This story has been updated since it was originally published. The DABs going inside the ESX Server VMs, not the other way around. Alsom FastScale has elevent customers, with eight in trial, not just eight customers. IT Jungle regrets the errors. [Corrected 9/25/07]
FastScale Takes a Different Approach to Virtualization and Provisioning
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