A Softer Network Infrastructure

Put virtualization and distributed computing together and you get the ultimate in flexibility: a computational resource that can be consumed by whatever applications require it.

May 1, 2005

3 Min Read
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Virtualization and distributed computing can seem like polar opposites. The former is about treating a single server as many distinct environments, the latter about treating many servers as one. But put them together and you get the ultimate in flexibility: a computational resource that can be consumed by whatever applications require it. Recent innovations in network infrastructure software have been directed toward that end, combining new kinds of virtualization with the ability to share tasks among cores on a chip, blades in a data center, and servers across an extranet.

Bus Routes

The main trend in data center software is the shift toward a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), a computing infrastructure that's focused on providing services, not running servers. Applications access these services using XML-based standards, remaining blissfully ignorant of the underlying hardware and OS. That calls for a new layer of middleware, otherwise known as the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).

The most influential player here is Sonic Software. It shipped the first ESB back in 2002, providing a platform for publishing BEA WebLogic, IBM WebSphere, and Microsoft .NET applications as Web services. Since then, most of the industry has jumped on board the bus. But Sonic's standalone approach offers the widest cross-vendor compatibility, and it continues to innovate, adding capabilities such as XML transformation (translating messages between schemas) and content-based routing.

SAN ShineMiddleware shields applications from the OS, but XML makes a powerful server more important than ever. The big story here is the move toward 64-bit x86 systems. With Microsoft producing a 64-bit version of Windows and everyone else embracing Linux, many pundits have predicted the death of proprietary Unix.

Sun Microsystems has proven them both wrong and right. They're wrong because Solaris 10 contains some visionary innovations that go beyond Windows or Linux, but right because it's no longer proprietary. You can already download it at no cost, and Sun has promised to release the source code under an OSI-approved license.

Available for SPARC, Opteron, and Xeon systems, Solaris 10 offers several improvements over its predecessors. It can handle 576 CPUs, run Linux code, and separate applications into "compartments," or lightweight virtual machines that don't need their own OS. But the most significant improvement is the 128-bit Zettabyte File System (ZFS). ZFS automates many management tasks, uses 64-bit checksums to ensure "19-nines" reliability, and scales from clusters as small as 1 byte to a total capacity of 2128 bytes--a SAN so large that building it would require mining other planets for silicon and copper.

A Link to Linux

Here on Earth, few networks yet require that much power. With the latest 2.6 kernel adding native support for virtualization, Linux is now more than enough to handle most tasks, but many enterprise may not be quite ready to migrate.That's where Novell and its Open Enterprise Server (OES) come in. The successor to NetWare, OES smoothes the path by implementing all the familiar NetWare services under Linux. It can also run Windows applications developed for the .NET framework using Mono, Novell's open-source .NET run time.

Chief Technology Editor Andy Dornan can be reached at [email protected].

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