Parallels bare-metal hypervisor details emerge

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Every time Parallels makes the news about its upcoming bare-metal hypervisor it’s impossible to not highlight how in late this product is: disclosed at the the beginning of 2006, the product was delayed and delayed and at today the company doesn’t provide yet a final date for its GA milestone.

The only server-side product released so far by Parallels came out in June 2008 and it’s called Server for Mac, but it doesn’t feature a bare-metal architecture that can compete against VMware ESX, Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V, Virtual Iron, Oracle VM, etc. etc.

Over the months and the years, the belief that Parallels can really deliver such product started to fade away. Last month finally the company gave a sign that something is moving by scheduling a promising session about this product at its Summit in Las Vegas.

Now a slide deck of the Parallels roadmap coming from that conference is publicly available (as The Register promptly highlighted yesterday) exposing a lot of concrete details about the hypervisor:

  • the product is temporarily called Parallels Server Bare Metal (PSBM)
  • it will be able to offer side-by-side virtual machines and OS containers (Parallels Containers), as pre-announced in November 2008
  • the hypervisor code is an evolution of the Windows/Linux/Mac OS products code
  • it will provide live migration for OS containers and quick migration for VMs, live backups and multiple snapshots
  • it will be able to overcommit CPU, memory and storage (thin-provisioning?)
  • it will be able to offer CPU scheduling (with % limits and shares) and resource reconfiguration
  • the virtual machines will feature up to 8 vCPUs, 64GB RAM, 2TB vHDs, 16 vNICs
  • the guest OSes will be 32bit and 64bits, Windows, Linux, FreeBSD and others supported
  • the virtual network layer will support bridged and routed virtual networks, as well as old-style VLANs and bandwidth restriction
  • the storage layer will support NAS, SAN and iSCSI arrays
  • the management layer will not provide multiple-host management but will exposes an XML API
  • the platform will be manageable by the Parallels Virtualization Automation product for multiple hosts / large-scale deployment scenarios
  • it will include P2V and V2V migration tools, including the migration from an OS container to a VM
  • the licensing scheme will cover both VMs and OS containers

Of course this list is still incomplete and doesn’t clarify the details about the core architecture that sounds so confusing compared to the one used by the Parallels competitors.
For sure additional details will emerge as soon as the hypervisor approaches its GA.

Anyway the big question is how Parallels will be able to compete against the many free hypervisors that are out there at this point.

The article published by the Register (linked above) reports a quote from Serguei Beloussov, the Parallels CEO, that say:

“We gave a look at giving away part of these product for free, but it is a trick,” says Beloussov. “You can’t really use the tools unless you have all the parts.”

While this may be true in some cases, this is going to be less and less true over time.
Citrix just released for free XenServer, which has advanced management features and VMs live migration for free. VMware may have to follow soon. Virtual Iron, Oracle and Sun may be obliged to do the same.

The Parallels product is much younger than all of the above (which are all based on Xen except VMware) and has to prove that it’s reliable in the enterprise.
Asking money to give basic features that trusted competitors offer for free may be very, very hard to accomplish in a tough economy like the current one.