Tech Industry

Software lets Intel servers divide

Improved software hands Intel servers some valuable features of higher-end Unix systems and mainframes, letting a single machine "partition" and act like several computers.

Intel servers are starting to gain some valuable features of higher-end Unix systems and mainframes with improvements to software that lets a single machine act like several computers.

SWsoft announced this week that in a test the forthcoming version 2.1 of its Virtuozzo software was able to support more than 2,000 copies of the Linux operating system on a single eight-processor Intel-based server, the Dell 8450. The different Linux "partitions" were housing Web sites and running software such as databases, Web shopping carts and Web-based e-mail.

Meanwhile, IBM announced a partnership with Virtuozzo rival VMware. Big Blue will use and help develop VMware's products on IBM servers. VMware's software dovetails with IBM's eLiza self-healing server research, which includes work on allocating different amounts of computing power to different tasks as work loads change.

The ability to subdivide, or partition, servers into a number of independent computers housed in the same hardware has several advantages. For one, partitioning means smaller machines are physically in the same place, not scattered around. This makes them easier to manage. Buying one big server and splitting it up can also be cheaper than buying many smaller machines. And partitioning allows for more efficient use of processing resources because a single, divided server can balance workloads across its partitions. For example, if there's a surge in Web site traffic, the divided server can automatically decrease the number of partitions devoted to inventory management and increase the number devoted to traffic. When the traffic dies down, it can restore the original allocations.

Such a feature has been largely lacking in the world of Intel servers, though Unisys and IBM have made some progress on the hardware side and SWsoft and VMware have made inroads with software. This week's announcements, however, show better progress in helping to fill the void.

Version 2.1 of SWsoft's Virtuozzo software is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2002, including support for up to 64GB of memory and optimizations for running numerous versions of the Apache Web server software used to run Web sites. The company also includes Virtuozzo Management Console, which lets administrators manage all the servers.

The server and software is available for $25,000, San Francisco-based SWsoft said.

VMware began pushing its products for server use in 2000. In addition to the new support from IBM, the company enjoys the backing of Dell, which invested in VMware nearly two years ago.

VMware can run either Linux or Windows. IBM will first offer VMware on its four-processor x360 server, Big Blue said.

The x360 uses the multiprocessor version of the Xeon chip that Intel will unveil next week. Two x360s may be joined into a single eight-processor system--code-named "Vigil" and due to debut in mid-March at the CeBit trade show in Germany.

Later, IBM plans to debut a 16-processor version as well. The systems can be partitioned into four-processor chunks, IBM has said.