Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, July 26, 2014
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Oracle Previews OpenStack-Solaris Hybrid 

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Software giant Oracle is not hesitant to leverage open source software when and if it suits the needs of its customers and its own income statement. The company has created a fairly substantial Linux distribution, controls the MySQL database, and participates in a number of file system projects. While Oracle has backed off on the plans of the former Sun Microsystems to open up Solaris to compete against Linux on a level community playing field, Oracle knows that Solaris needs to do the things that Linux can do. One of those things is OpenStack, and it will be coming to Solaris.

OpenStack is quickly becoming the dominant open source cloud controller on the market, surpassing Eucalyptus and CloudStack in terms of mindshare and marketshare, with a community that is growing faster than Linux did in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In a sense, OpenStack can be thought of as a kind of cloud operating system, abstracting the machinations of a cluster of servers and storage and their networking glue and automating much of the operations of the gear as it runs virtual machines and their workloads.

Sun launched a public cloud called the Sun Grid in March 2006, which was the same month that Amazon Web Services debuted its first service, the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). That makes Sun a cloud innovator, by the way, and the company had a very simple marketing plan of $1 per CPU per hour. Big banks and other financial firms had been hogging all of the capacity on the Sun Grid for a year as it was being beta tested. Sun’s own issues in the systems business and then the Great Recession made it tough for Sun to continue to invest in the cloud at a scale that Amazon could do and has done, and that is one of the reasons why Oracle was able to acquire Sun four years ago.

Oracle did not come to the cloud willingly, and co-founder and chief executive officer Larry Ellison heaped scorn on the idea for several years before making his conversion on the road to Seattle. Oracle is serious about clouds now, just as its customers are, whether they are building them in their own datacenters or planning to use public clouds. Oracle is, in fact, building out its own public cloud, called the Oracle Cloud naturally enough, and will be offering infrastructure, platform, and application software services to customers. Some customers want to run Solaris workloads, and thus Solaris has to be integrated with some cloud controller. The obvious choice, then, is OpenStack.

There was a time when Sun was working on a Xen hypervisor for the X86 variant of Solaris, and Sparc-based machines have dynamic domain physical partitions as well as logical domain (LDom) virtual machine partitions. Solaris containers (often called zones) are also available as an abstraction and allow for applications written for different Solaris releases to be run side-by-side on the same machine.

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OpenStack speaks fluent KVM and can be made to speak Xen and ESXi if need be, and one of the tasks that Oracle has to do if it is to make Solaris cloudy is get OpenStack to integrate with the various partitioning technology that is part of its Unix variant.

That is precisely what Oracle has done with Solaris 11.2, which goes into beta testing today and which Markus Flierl, vice president of software development at Oracle, says should be production grade by the summer if all works out as planned. The target for Solaris 11.2 delivery is July. (Flierl also brags that the number of Solaris engineers is now 50 percent larger than when Oracle acquired Sun a little over four years ago, which is how Oracle can do an OpenStack-Solaris spin.)

The Oracle implementation of OpenStack merged with Solaris in its beta form is based on the “Grizzly” release of OpenStack that came out a little more than a year ago, and Flierl tells EnterpriseTech that at the very least the production-grade version of Solaris 11.2 will incorporate the more recent “Havana” release from October 2013 or, if it can be done in time, the “Icehouse” release that came out earlier this month. The Solaris 11.2 update will have OpenStack managing Solaris zones as well as a new feature called kernel zones (more on these in a second), with LDom on the roadmap for some future time.

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The important thing is that the full distribution of OpenStack will run atop Solaris 11.2 and you can use the Horizon management interface from the OpenStack distribution to run a Solaris-based cloud, just as you would a Linux-based one.

The other thing that Flierl will be talking up at the Solaris 11.2 launch at an event in New York on Tuesday is the fact that the number of virtual machines that a typical system administrator can handle on a cloudy environment based on Solaris is on the order of 4,000 compared to around 250 for a stack based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. (It would be good to get some kind of independent corroboration on such numbers, of course.) This compression is due, in part, to the relatively low overhead associated with LDoms and zones, which allows more logical partitions per physical system than a full-on hypervisor based server virtualization setup.

That brings us to kernel zones, which are a new type of virtualization that exists somewhere on the continuum between a zone or container and a partition running on a bare-metal hypervisor. With zones, the partitions all share a single kernel and file system and the zone is an abstraction that creates a sandbox that looks like a full and independent operating system as far as applications and users are concerned. With a bare metal hypervisor, the hypervisor creates an abstraction of underlying hardware and each virtual machine has a full version of the operating system running inside of it. This obviously eats more memory and CPU, but it provides full isolation between the VMs. With kernel zones, Oracle is taking a bit of the best of both worlds. Zones are loaded up with their own Solaris kernels and ZFS operating systems but the overhead is not nearly as heavy as when running a full-on hypervisor.

“There are all kinds of shortcuts that we know that we can take, knowing that we are running Solaris atop Solaris,” explains Flierl.

Here’s the important thing: the LDom hypervisor is only available on Sparc T series chips for entry machines (T1 through T5) and on Sparc M5 and M6 processors for midrange and high-end machines. Kernel zones will be available on any X86 or Sparc server that supports Solaris 11.

As part of the Solaris 11.2 update, Oracle is taking the flash archives from Solaris 10 and updating it to unified archives, which will allow software stacks to be deployed in a consistent manner across bare-metal, zones, or kernel zones. Oracle has also created its own distributed virtual switch for its various hypervisors, called the Elastic Virtual Switch, that abstracts the networking for Solaris instances running atop domains, zones, or kernel zones. Flierl says that Oracle looked at adapting the Open vSwitch used by many Linux distributions for this but decided that it was better to build its own from scratch. This virtual switch supports VXLAN overlays for Layer 3 networks created by VMware and Arista Networks, and Flierl says that Oracle is looking at the NVGRE alternative proposed by Microsoft and will likely add support for this as well. 

About the author: Timothy Prickett Morgan

Editor in Chief, EnterpriseTech Prickett Morgan brings 25 years of experience as a publisher, IT industry analyst, editor, and journalist for some of the world’s most widely-read high-tech and business publications including The Register, BusinessWeek, Midrange Computing, IT Jungle, Unigram, The Four Hundred, ComputerWire, Computer Business Review, Computer System News and IBM Systems User.

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