Novell touts server management on Windows, Linux

Virtual plate spinning

Novell has updated its PlateSpin server management tools.

The commercial Linux distributor consists of more than just a declining NetWare business and a choppy but apparently break-even SUSE Linux business. It also gets a chunk of its change selling a number of system management and monitoring tools. That, oddly enough, may be the part of the business that makes Novell worth something closer to what its management seems to think it's worth as they parade the company in front of a large number of suitors

Everyone has a vision these days, and it's usually cloudy. Novell, hoping to find some way to escape the gravity of NetWare's decline, is taking the systems software and management tools it has either built or bought and mashing them up to create what is supposed to be a unified set of integrated tools with the uber-boring name Intelligent Workload Management. One variant of this stack will be out later this summer, and it is called Novell Cloud Manager. As the name suggests, it will be used to manage heterogeneous virtual servers in both private and public clouds.

In the meantime, Novell has to do something to make some money in real-world data centers, and that's why a bunch of the PlateSpin server management tools have been tweaked. Presumably, elements of PlateSpin and other Novell products will end up in this Cloud Manager product.

Novell snapped up PlateSpin in February 2008 for a cool $205m. At the time, PlateSpin sold two bits of software: Convert, which did conversions from physical to virtual servers (and back, as well as virtual-to-virtual conversions, which is no mean feat), and PowerRecon, which kept track of which virtual and physical machine was using what software and did metering and charge back for it. The two products were available for installation on your own gear, or on an appliance built by PlateSpin called Forge.

After taking over the PlateSpin products, Novell changed them up a bit, merging them with its ZENworks management tools to create a little something called the PlateSpin Management Suite. PowerConvert was renamed Migrate, and instead of just supporting VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, Novell made it work with Hyper-V and Xen and even allowed for physical Solaris 10 servers to have their workloads encapsulated and dropped into Solaris 10 logical containers. (Migrate only works on Sparc-based servers, however. Sorry x64-Solaris shops).

With PlateSpin Migrate 9, two features that were available for Windows instances - live transfer and live server sync - are now available for Linux images. Live transfer is not the same thing as the live migration that is available with completely virtualized environments, but it is the next best thing you can get when you are trying to manage both physical and virtual machines from the same tool. Live transfer allows you to take a snapshot of running server (physical or virtual) and start it up either on a new physical or virtual server somewhere else in the network. Using the P2P, P2V, V2P, and V2V tools inside of Migrate, you can even transform it if you want to, but it still requires the operating system and migrated applications to be rebooted afresh on the new machine.

Before Migrate 9,Windows servers could be snapshotted and live transferred, but Linux servers had to be taken offline and then encapsulated. Now, the Linux transfer is live. And Linux workloads also get another formerly Windows-only feature called server sync, which does an initial live transfer of a workload to a new target machine (again, physical or virtual). It lets you run tests on it until you are happy, and then it does a changed-data-only replication from the source to the target machine so quickly snap things over. (Instead of replicating the whole machine again).

Migrate 9 has the ability to take a snapshot of Windows-based clusters running Microsoft's Cluster Services and do a live transfer of a complete cluster all in one fell swoop. You can see the full list of platforms that Migrate 9 can play with here.

PlateSpin Protect is also being revved to a 10 release, this being a disaster recovery tool that PlateSpin created for ESX Server hypervisors before VMware had its own tools for doing this. Protect takes a running physical or virtual machine and replicates it to a virtual machine for emergency redeployment in the event that the "real" server flies up its own port.

Protect is also used to store images generated by the Migrate tool, akin to a jukeboxing system that VMware and Citrix Systems sell with their respective ESX Server and XenServer hypervisors. Protect 10 has a new Web interface that makes it easier, says Novell, to set up and test disaster recovery plans for physical and virtual machines, and to create a single set of virtual infrastructure to act as a hot backup for Windows and Linux platforms, be they physical or virtual.

Finally, Novell is kicking out a new appliance running this PlateSpin code, called Forge 3. The Forge appliance runs Migrate 9 and Protect 10, and it's the repository and test bed for migrated machines and replicated backups. The combination of the two, by the way, allows Novell to do something that other virtualization management tool vendors cannot do, according to John Stetic, director of product management for the PlateSpin products at Novell. And that is to take a workload that is failing on one box and move it over to a backup box, fix the real box, and then move it back to the original by only moving over changed data.

That last bit is the thing Stetic says others can't do. You can have a disaster and recover with other tools, but the machine where you plunk the workload is the new primary and there is no way to get back to where you started automatically.

The Forge 3 appliance hardware has been updated with quad-core x64 processors (it has two sockets), and it comes with 32 GB of main memory, 3 TB of disk capacity, and a bunch of network cards. Pricing for the new Forge 3 appliance was not available yet, since it won't ship until the end of June.

Migrate 9 is priced based on the workload (that's the operating system and its application stack) that you encapsulate to move around, and it costs just under $295 per workload, including a year of priority support). Unlike the prior PlateSpin products, where you had to pay every time you moved or transformed a workload, you get a perpetual license for Migrate conversions and transfers for each workload you create. Protect 10 costs $1,495 per workload (including priority support again). Migrate 9 and Protect 10 will be available on June 30.

The PlateSpin Recon workload profiling tool and PlateSpin Orchestrate server and storage management tools — formerly known as ZENworks, and also the result of a Novell acquisition many years ago — were not updated this time around. ®

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