Sun xVM Server evaluation

The following is a letter I sent after evaluating Sun xVM Server Early Access 3. After EA3, there should be an EA4, and then, I'm told, there will be the General Availability. Letter follows:

First, let me say, I really appreciate the decent customer service at the beginning of this engagement, both from my reseller and from Sun. It was a little painful to actually get the software to download, but my many questions were answered well to my satisfaction.

I like Xen. I like Sun because of history. I think Sun Xen (xVM) offers an easy migration path for my existing RHEL 5 Xen infrastructure. I like the Microsoft support of Sux xVM. But I haven’t used Solaris seriously in 8 years, so I know I won’t be able to do the kind of under-the-hood troubleshooting that I routinely do on linux-based systems. It’s an uphill battle getting Sun hardware and software, though, because other folks here are much more comfortable with, for example, HP and VMware. That said, we’re in a growth mode, moving to virtualize a lot of stuff this year, buying hardware and possibly software for virtualization.

While I expected some occasional glitches in xVM server, perhaps even panics, etc., I have really been left feeling that this EA3 is not a Beta, RC1, or RC2 type product, but really an alpha-level development snapshot.

It would not recognize the RAID in my HP server. Okay, so I can’t run it on any of my HP servers, and won’t be able to do so in the GA.

…the install cd panics on my HP xw8600 workstation. In fact, of the OpenSolaris releases, 2008.05 works, but 2008.11 panics (and an upgrade from 2008.05 to 2008.11 also results in a non-bootable, panicky, system). The panics happen in several different modules, but appears to be related to the Intel SATA chipset. After spending wasting many hours getting it working, I was able to mask out the proper devices in the BIOS, and get xVM server to install. The Hardware Compatibility List is apparently wrong about my particular workstation.

Finally, having it installed, the web UI is painfully slow on my quad-core, 10GB RAM workstation.

Some web UI features don’t work, because they use flash, and flash isn’t distributed with xVM. Okay, I’ll just look at the charts from a remote box.

Wait, the box isn’t on the network. DHCP didn’t work. (tried both NICs). I assigned a static IP. Still no-go. No console diagnostics, apparently, to try to ping a gateway, see NIC state (UP, RUNNING, counters, etc.), or further troubleshoot my problem. *sigh*. I guess I also can’t try the registration feature, the “update” feature, or access the flashy graphs from another system; nor can I import an iso nor create a library on my nfs server.

Okay, so I’ll play around with the other features.

Hmm…, I can’t see how to set up raid-Z in the storage part of the management console. I was hoping to do things like stripe the main test volume disks, but replicate snapshots to a separate internal disk, then to a remote zfs target. No luck there.

No nic teaming nor vlan trunks seems like a glaring omission for a virtualization platform (no redundant network paths?!! No bandwidth aggregation / load balancing?). I knew this from the Q&A at the beginning of the eval, but it’s still alarming that this feature set would be absent in a modern server product distribution.

Basically, I expected 80-90% functionality. I figure that I’ve gotten a pretty (slow) UI, with 20% functionality under the hood. Blame a lot of it on the hardware, but, come on, Intel SATA chipset, HP workstation, and Broadcom NICs?? Can’t you support that?

I can’t imagine that the GA will be that great, if this pre-release is this bad, and release is scheduled (slipped) for Q2CY2009. Maybe in a year. But then, only if Sun is showing true market leadership and profitability in at least some major area, and demonstrates that it can “not just survive, but thrive”.

Yes, I’m frustrated because I’ve spent time I didn’t have, evaluating a product that didn’t work (not even to beta levels); even though I was a “believer” going in to the experience, trying to give it every chance I could, I call this eval a failure.

Can I try to run my own opensolaris Xen solution? Well, my trial of opensolaris has been less than stellar (panics on install).

Thank you for the opportunity to look at this product. I’ll give EA4 exactly one chance, but I won’t waste any more time trying to troubleshoot stuff that should just work.

P.S. I’d have a Sun workstation, but the HP gave me more, at a much lower cost than the Sun model.