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Symantec Takes On Virtualization Management Across Environments

New Paradigms for Storage

  • March 15, 2007
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

With its announcements this week around virtualization and Red Hat Linux, Symantec is moving beyond a past strategy of providing tools for multiple OS to a new vision of managing multiple virtualization environments. In this emerging area of heterogenuous virtualization management, Symantec is also bound to face plenty of competition from companies ranging from Microsoft to VMware and XenSource. But Symantec is well up to the challenge, according to some analysts who are deeply steeped in virtualization technologies.

Symatec's latest announcements contain Linux as well as virtualization planks. On the Linux side, Symantec will add to its long-time Red Hat support by providing three storage solutions -- all originally obtained through its acquisition of Veritas--for the new Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.

Symantec and Red Hat will also expand their existing engineering relationship by launching "Unix-style" joint phone support for mutual customers at no extra cost beyond current tech support subscription fees.

"This will fill a key gap in Linux (tech) support. It will be the kind of support that enterprise customers are accustomed to getting on Unix," maintained Laura Shepard, Symantec's product line manager, in an interview with LinuxPlanet.

Due for release in the April time frame, Symantec's storage solutions for RHEL 5 will include Veritas Storage Foundation, Cluster Server, and Net Backup.

But meanwhile, on the virtualization side, Symantec will expand upon its previous support for VMware virtualization by launching a beta implementation of Xen virtualization later this month in both Storage Foundation and its dynamic multi-pathing technology.

Symantec's Xen support will ultimately be bundled with Red Hat as well as other Linux distributions, Shepard said. Yet in terms of virtualization platforms, Symantec doesn't plan to stop with VMware and Xen. "Watch this space," she told LinuxPlanet.

Symantec's virtualization management strategy also stretches across all major OS, "The [Storage Foundation] family now has a version for every workload, [and] every OS in the data center, all managed centrally with a [Storage Foundation] management server," according to Shepard.

"A lot of vendors want to provide a consistent interface for managing multiple virtualization platforms. Off hand, I can think of 15 or 20 of them," said Tony Iams, a senior analyst and vice president at Ideas International.

Other players include OS vendors such as Microsoft, with Virtual Server and the forthcoming Veridian; OEMs such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun; traditional enterprise management vendors such as Computer Associates; and a growing multitude of smaller virtualization specialists, he said.

Even Red Hat itself is beginning to provide some value-added virtualization capabilities, Iams observed. Yet Symantec's planned Storage Foundation, Cluster Server, and Net Backup solutions for Red Hat Linux will fit in well with the capabilities of RHEL, and so will the envisioned Xen support, according to the analyst

"There's a little bit of overlap, but Symantec's offering is more mature. Symantec will need to be a bit careful there about positioning. But Symantec is also quite experienced at working with other customers, such as Sun and HP, to figure out combined solutions for enterprise customers," he told LinuxPlanet.

"[Symantec's virtualization plans are] an extension of [its] Standardization strategy, [giving] the ability to support all of the customer's data center technologies with a single interface," agreed Bob Laliberte, a storage analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.

"Make no mistake about it. This is not an easy path to take. It requires a lot of forethought in design and skilled resources to actually pull it off. But this latest announcement is proof of Symantec's commitment to the customer, and [its] ability to deliver timely support for multiple OS and multiple virtualization technologies."

Symantec first started to support Linux way back in 1999, Shepard said. By now, Symantec has more than 6,000 successful Linux data center implementations under its belt, for customers that include Siebel, ATA Airlines, Renault, Weather Channel, the Human Genome Project, and the City of Munich, Germany, for example.

Symantec has also made contributions to the Linux kernel in areas that include memory, scalability, and performance, according to Shepard.

The vendor currently supports only the Red Hat and Novell SuSE distributions of Linux. "But we're looking at other distributions all the time," Shepard said.

In Symantec's new joint tech support offering with Red Hat, customers will be able to make just a single phone call to either vendor to receive support for products from both companies, she said.

Symantec and Red Hat staff have been cross-trained on one another's products. But the two companies will also share joint lab access. When needed, Symantec will call in experts from Red Hat to help solve a customer's problem, and vice versa.

With regard to its virtualization products, Symantec intends to put a big emphasis on simplifying management for customers, Shepard said.

"Virtualization brings more complexity by adding more layers," according to Shepard. These layers include physical servers, virtual servers, applications, network components, storage components, I/O paths, and virtual links, for instance.

"Virtual interface links need to be maintained. [Many] applications are now mobile, and they need to be tracked. Many existing data center tools are built on the physical server model, and they don't adapt well to the virtual server environment," according to the product line manager.

Shepard also told LinuxPlanet that Symantec has been the first company out the door with advanced VM (virtual machine) capabilities such as failover at three different levels, and the ability to offer integrated high availability/disaster recovery (HA/DR) in a VMWare environment. Through three-level failover, the system can fail over at either the application, virtual machine (VM), or physical host level.

Although other vendors have started catching up with three-level failover, Symantec's VCS on VMware ESX is still the only product with integrated HA/DR, according to Shepard.

This capability is important for determining whether an event is an HA or DR event, for integrating high-end synchronous or asynchronous data replication, and for automating the transition of administration among platforms and sites.

"VMware does have some rudimentary support for three-level failover in v13 now. But Symantec uses a much more sophisticated approach," Iams affirmed.

"These virtualization technologies are creating their [own] ecosystem of partners to drive adoption," acknowledged Laliberte. "That said, I am not aware of any other vendors in this space who are as well integrated as Symantec, especially for HA/DR support."

As it steps into the Xen arena at the end of March, Symantec will now be up against rivals that include not just Microsoft, but smaller Xen specialists such as XenSource and Virtual Iron.

"The latest Storage Foundation for Linux actually supports I/O multipathing for Xen [already], which is pretty impressive," Laliberte told LinuxPlanet. "A lot of SRM (storage resource management) packages are still defining their support for virtual server environments. Most are waiting for NPIV (New Paradigms in Information Imaging and Manipulation) technology. Symantec has gotten a jump on that."

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