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Sun revamps its management with xVM Ops Center

This is a significant step forward for Sun, which has lagged somewhat in the management space relative to what HP provides with Systems Insight Manager and IBM with System Director.

We've seen a lot of changes in system vendors' management products over the past few years. One reason is that server management isn't just about hardware and operating systems any longer. It gets more important every day to be able to handle virtualized servers too. Sure, there are separate applications that specialize in managing virtual machines--VMware's Virtual Center, for example. However, today's (and, for the most part, tomorrow's) reality is that most organizations have a mix of physical and virtual servers that they'd like to manage in a common and consistent way, to the degree that's possible.

As a result, system vendors have been retooling their products to handle both physical and virtual management. Even when they use Virtual Center or other third-party products to provide some of the low-level control functions needed to operate on hypervisors in a virtualized environment, they aim to abstract and hide the underlying technical differences from the person doing the managing.

Sun is the latest to revamp its server management tools--and it's partly the result of adding the ability to manage virtualized environments. Even the name reflects this: xVM Ops Center. (xVM is Sun's hypervisor family that's based on Xen on x86 servers and Sun's own firmware-based LDoms on SPARC.)

xVM Ops Center is the merging and retooling of two current Sun products: Sun Connection (which handles system updates) and Sun N1 System Manager (its server management, monitoring, and provisioning tool). Sun Management Center, the longstanding tool still used by many customers to manage Solaris on SPARC servers, in unaffected by this announcement. The Sun N1 Service Provisioning System (SPS)--an automation and policy tool based on Sun's CenterRun acquisition--also remains as a separate product, although Sun plans to create a plug-in for SPS that will allow it to control Ops Center.

Sun put a lot of effort into making the tool as easy to use as possible. It has a browser-based user interface that makes heavy use of modern "AJAX-y" programming techniques. For example, moving the mouse over items displays more detailed information. More substantively, Ops Center does in-depth analysis of the effect of patches at the binary level. This differs from most Linux update mechanisms, which are mostly concerned with dependencies at the level of entire applications. Ops Center works with SUSE Linux Enterprise and Red Hat Enterprise Linux in addition to Solaris on both x86 and SPARC.

Sun designed Ops Center to be deployed in what it calls a "three-tier model." It requires that an agent be installed on each managed server or virtual machine. (Ops Center also manages Sun's own operating system containers; in this case, a single copy of the agent can be installed in the global zone.) A local proxy server would then communicate with Sun for updates and distribute them on the local network. This approach reflects that Sun's design center tends toward large enterprise datacenters even though it's started to devote more attention to SMB of late.

Sun formally announced Ops Center today. It plans to start making source code available at OpenxVM.org on December 10, with a commercial release following on January 8. The "full product" in the sense of support for Sun's full swath of hardware platforms and operating systems (Linux and Solaris), third-party hypervisors, and a variety of fit and finish optimizations will be ready by about next June.

This is a significant step forward for Sun, which has lagged somewhat in the management space relative to what HP provides with Systems Insight Manager and IBM with System Director.