Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6

Executive Summary:
Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6 includes an advanced feature set that includes LiveRecovery, LiveMigration, and LiveCapacity. Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6 can be installed on Windows or Linux systems. Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6 can be configured locally and remotely using its Java-based Web console.

Virtual Iron Software's Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6 is a desktop and server virtualization solution competing in the same market as VMware’s ESX Server. Like ESX Server, Virtual Iron doesn't run on another OS, setting it apart from products such as Microsoft Virtual Server and VMware Server. Although I reviewed Virtual Iron 3.6, Virtual Iron 3.7 will be available by the time you read this review and includes new features, such as performance enhancements for virtual disks. Virtual Iron 3.6 supports 32-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, as well as both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Red Hat and SUSE Linux. Virtual Iron comes with an advanced feature set that includes LiveRecovery, which enables virtual servers to restart on a new managed node in the event of a hardware failure on the running managed node; LiveMigration, which lets you move a running virtual server between managed nodes without interrupting service; and LiveCapacity, which uses LiveMigration to automatically move a virtual server to a new managed node when the running managed node's CPU utilization exceeds a specified level for a fixed period of time.

You install Virtual Iron on a Windows or Linux-based system that will act as the management server. The management server coordinates the activities of managed nodes, which are the systems that host virtual servers. You can configure and manage Virtual Iron both locally and remotely by using a Java-based Web application hosted by the management server. Web Figure 1 (, InstantDoc ID 96390) shows the Virtual Iron management network. This product requires that the management server and each managed node have at least two network interfaces: one supporting a private network for Virtual Iron functionality, and one or more interfaces for virtual servers to use in their communications. The management server hosts a Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) server, from which each managed node boots a thin virtualization control layer. Managed nodes require processors with hardware-based virtualization support provided by either Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) or AMD Virtualization (AMD-V) technology. The virtualization layer uses about 512MB of memory on managed nodes. Virtual Iron supports as much as 96GB of memory on a managed node and supports allocating as much as 20GB to a virtual server. Virtual Iron Software recommends running 3 to 6 virtual servers per installed processor core, depending on the application and workload.

You don't install anything on managed nodes, except optional boot disks for virtual servers. I installed Virtual Iron on a Windows 2003-based management server in a matter of minutes. Two Intel Pentium D-based Dell PowerEdge SC430 systems served as my managed nodes. To test Virtual Iron's advanced capabilities, I used a NetApp StoreVault S500 to host iSCSI LUNs provisioned for access by both of my managed nodes.

The Virtual Iron QuickStart Guide quickly took me through the initial configuration for a simple system—a process that will be vaguely familiar if you've worked with other server-virtualization products. Using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), I connected to the management server and logged on to Virtual Iron Virtualization Manager, using my Virtual Iron-based user ID and password. I found the structure of Virtualization Manager to be easy to learn. Because several administrators can manage Virtual Iron’s resources simultaneously, the product places a lock on affected resources whenever you make a configuration change or request an action. To implement the change—and eliminate the lock—click Commit on the Virtualization Manager interface. Each action you request occurs as a separately queued job, which runs after you click Commit.

In my testing, I created several virtual servers. The two non-supported ISO images I used—UBUNTU Desktop Edition 7.0 and a custom XP installation disk—didn’t work, although the supported XP CD-ROM did work. I also successfully imported a Windows 2003 Virtual Hard Disk (VHD), which I created by using Virtual Server 2005 R2.

I placed my imported VHD image on a NetApp StoreVault S500-based iSCSI LUN because Virtual Server’s disks must reside on network storage if you want to use Virtual Iron’s LiveMigration feature. Executing a manual LiveMigration is easy because you can just drag the running system from one managed node to another and click Commit. Web Figure 2 (, InstantDoc ID 96390) shows the virtual server under the new managed node with an M (for migrating) icon displayed next to the virtual server name until the migration is complete. Overall, Virtual Iron 3.6 worked well in my tests with the Dell systems. I also attempted to use a “white box” Pentium D-based system as a managed node, but an undetermined problem caused the system not to work with one of the network adapter cards, so in your own tests, make sure to test your hardware configuration before committing to it. Virtual Iron Software publishes a list of supported hardware and offers “best efforts” support for other hardware. Some details of the implementation are ripe for enhancement; for example, in a Windows environment, VHD files you might want to import must be located on the Program Files disk.

Virtual Iron 3.6 is a reasonably priced virtualization product at $499 per socket (i.e., per physical processor, including quad-core processors) in licensed managed nodes. Although the list of officially supported OSs and hardware is relatively limited, the product will certainly meet the needs of most businesses. The Java-based UI was very responsive and certainly facilitates remote access. If you're looking for an alternative to ESX Server, give Virtual Iron 3.6 a good look—I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition 3.6

Pros: Easy installation; a responsive, Java-based Web console; LiveMigration-based features add power and flexibility; uncomplicated configuration and management
Cons: List of supported guest OSs is fairly short; some implementation details have room for improvement
Rating: 4 out of 5
Price: $499 per socket (aka physical processor)
Recommendation: Virtual Iron Enterprise Edition is an easy-to-use, workable, and reasonably priced virtualization platform that’s worth your time to evaluate.
Contact: Virtual Iron
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