FastScale software radically increases virtualization efficiency

Virtualization efficiency can be ratcheted up with FastScale Technology's Composer Suite, which decreases the size of system images and dramatically reduces hardware requirements for customers.

Solution provider takeaway: Virtualization efficiency can be greatly improved with FastScale Composer Suite, a virtualization provisioning application.

While hypervisors from VMware, Citrix/XenSource, Microsoft and others dominate the server virtualization discussion, there's a virtualization technology on the market that could dramatically increase the virtualization efficiencies brought about by those hypervisors.

FastScale Technology's FastScale Composer Suite can best be described as a virtualization provisioning application that radically increases virtualization efficiency by drastically decreasing the size of virtualized guest operating systems and applications. FastScale Composer Suite system images are about 95% smaller than traditional software stacks. This, of course, also means faster server image provisioning and the ability to load many more applications onto virtualized systems. There is also a significant performance benefit: Smaller application stacks mean that entire stacks can run in memory, even on modestly configured systems.

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Resellers and integrators can use FastScale technology to dramatically reduce hardware requirements for customer server consolidation projects, further increasing virtualization efficiency. In uncertain economic times, this can be a big win for business partners and a path toward capturing customer loyalty.

The "secret sauce" inside FastScale's product is its "Application Blueprint" software stack. When an application is selected to be deployed on a system, FastScale Composer examines the code for application/operating system dependencies and quickly builds a blueprint of what the app needs from the operating system.

For example, in a typical RedHat/Apache software load, the total size of the application, libraries, kernel and driver code is about 3 GB. However, most applications only need a small fraction of those components to function. FastScale Composer, after blueprinting the stack, will load only 30 MB of code -- 99% less. Unnecessary drivers don't load; libraries that aren't needed don't go on the system; even parts of the application that aren't applicable to the particular installation are jettisoned. The resulting application stack is much smaller, needing fewer hardware resources to run, while all of the original functionality is preserved.

The blueprinting process is accomplished in seconds, at the time of deployment, and relieves administrators from the task of designing, building, testing and maintaining "golden images" for their most frequently used application stacks. Software components, including applications, libraries, operating systems, drivers and configuration files, are stored in a central repository that FastScale Composer uses as ingredients to build application stack recipes. The repository approach is integral to speeding up the configuration and deployment process and improving virtualization efficiency. According to FastScale, launching, blueprinting, deploying and provisioning a new application typically takes less than a minute -- which is quite an improvement over the several minutes that are usually required to bring up a new application.

The practice of using "slimmed down" operating system instances and application stacks has been used to optimize performance in scientific and technical high-performance computing (HPC) for years. For most commercial customers, however, this is uncharted territory, and many will need some time to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of the technology. One minor technical requirement, for example, is that systems utilizing FastScale need to have network access to a common FastScale Shared Component Repository that stores software stack components and "recipes" that are used to build optimized stacks.

Helping customers acquire and implement FastScale is an obvious value-added service for resellers. This may also be a vehicle that savvy channel partners can use to land follow-up business with customers who previously consolidated their servers. These customers, after a successful consolidation, will probably be interested in learning how to take their server utilization to the next level and further increase virtualization efficiency.

FastScale Composer works with a wide variety of Linux distributions, along with Windows 2003 and, in the near future, Windows 2008. The software works with standard, unmodified applications and operating systems and doesn't have any hardware dependencies. It also offers full interoperability with mainstream job schedulers and load balancers, meaning that FastScale Composer operations can be completely automated. Administrators can customize deployment rules and easily map application versions with either a graphical dashboard or by using the command line. FastScale Composer supports VMware virtualization; future plans include support for Microsoft's Hyper-V and possibly open source Xen virtualization as customer demand grows.

FastScale Composer Suite has been shipping for more than a year and costs about $30,000. The company has formed partnerships with industry notables VMware, Microsoft, HP and IBM. VMware also makes an appearance on FastScale's major customer list, along with TransUnion, France Telecom and Fidelity Investments.

About the author
Dan Olds is the founder and principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., a Beaverton, Ore., IT analyst and consulting firm. Dan is always interested in hearing from users on topics including virtualization, servers and vendor support issues. You can email Dan at dan.olds@gabrielconsultinggroup.com.


This was first published in September 2008

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