by Matthias Pfützner
Published September 2012
Overview of Oracle VM Server for x86 and the role it plays in a virtualization strategy.
Oracle VM Server for x86 is an Oracle technology that existed before Oracle acquired Sun. It is a virtualization product based on the Xen hypervisor and like its SPARC counterpart, Oracle VM Server for SPARC, it is a thin Type 1 hypervisor that performs hardware virtualization and uses paravirtualization.
To put Oracle VM Server for x86 into perspective, let's revisit Figure 1 from the previous article.
Figure 1. Oracle Virtualization Technologies and Products
As you can see, there is a similar product called Oracle VM Server for SPARC, which was covered in the last article. Some of the general remarks made there also apply to Oracle VM Server for x86. So, even if you're interested in only the x86-side of things, it's a good idea to review that last article.
For some background information, below, I shamelessly provide the "Introduction to Oracle VM" section of the Oracle VM User's Guide, which says the following. (Note: In Figure 2 and the description below, "Oracle VM Server" refers to Oracle VM Server for x86.)
Oracle VM is a platform that provides a fully equipped environment with all the latest benefits of virtualization technology. Oracle VM enables you to deploy operating systems and application software within a supported virtualization environment. The components of Oracle VM are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Oracle VM Architecture
The following sections provide more details for Oracle VM Server for x86.
Regarding the hypervisor used in Oracle VM Server for x86, Xen started as a university project and its architecture is similar to the architecture of the logical domains on SPARC-based systems, with one important difference. On the SPARC side, the hypervisor is part of the OpenBoot Prom (OBP), whereas on the x86 side, the hypervisor is a separate software entity and needs to be installed as a complete system directly from CD/DVD onto the server. This usually takes just a few minutes. Once that's done, the virtualization server platform is available.
For the management side of things, unlike Oracle VM Server for SPARC, Oracle VM Server for x86 needs an additional management server called Oracle VM Manager. Contrary to the way the server part (that is, Oracle VM Server for x86) is installed, the manager part (that is, Oracle VM Manager) is installed on top of an already installed operating system.
Installation of Oracle VM Server for x86 and Oracle VM Manager, as well as how to use Oracle VM Manager, is described in detail in the Oracle VM User's Guide.
Types of Domains
In the last article, we described four different types of domains used with Oracle VM Server for SPARC: control, service, I/O, and guest. For Oracle VM Server for x86, we deal only with dom0 (control, service, and I/O domain) and domU (guest domain).
OVM Templates and Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder
Ease of use is increased by additional tools such as Oracle VM Templates and Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder.
Oracle VM Templates are preinstalled and preconfigured ready-to-run images of diverse software stacks. These can be downloaded (currently more than 90 such templates exist) directly from the Oracle Software Delivery Cloud, where Oracle VM Server for x86 can be downloaded (see the link in the "See Also" section). Using Oracle VM Templates, it is very easy to set up and run, for example, a single Oracle Database server in less than 15 minutes. You download, import into Oracle VM Manager, deploy, and run.
In many cases, single-server environments aren't enough, because multitier environments consist of many servers. The Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder is a tool for creating multi-virtual-server environments out of single systems, and it allows such an assembly to be exported as one single building block and then be imported into Oracle VM Manager. This makes the management of even complex multitier environments very easy.
Things to Consider
With features such as server pools and virtual network switches, the setup and management of large virtualization environments gets complex. Therefore, careful planning is needed. Specifically, doing a careful evaluation and TCO and/or ROI analysis is a good thing. Keep in mind, that over time, the underlying infrastructure becomes more and more a commodity; therefore, elements at higher levels become more and more important in the decision-making progress, and getting the "commodity" part from the same vendor that is supplying the higher-level elements might become an advantage.
The benefits of Oracle VM Server for x86 include the following:
Oracle VM Server for x86 offers a complete, easy-to-use, and affordable environment for all server virtualization requirements.
Matthias Pfützner worked at Sun Microsystems and Oracle from 1998 until 2012, and he now works for AppSense. During his 14 years in the Professional Services and Presales groups at Sun and Oracle, he supported technologies such as clustering, provisioning, systems management, virtualization, and cloud computing for customers such as Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and Daimler Chrysler. As one of approximately a hundred worldwide Principal Field Technologists at Sun and Oracle, he helped define and shape these technologies, influenced IT businesses around the world, and gave many presentations at conferences and customer meetings.
Matthias would like to thank Uwe Strahlendorf and Detlef Drewanz for the invaluable feedback they provided for this article.
Revision 1.0, 09/18/2012