Microsoft virtualization tools reinforce data center plans

RackForce Networks rolls out Microsoft Hyper-V as way to speed on-the-spot scalability

Hosting provider RackForce Networks expects that Microsoft's just released Hyper-V virtualization technology will give it a chance to take a major step in its business strategy.

The company, which hosts dedicated and virtual private servers for e-businesses, application providers and hosting resellers, has been working toward providing resource upgrades on the fly. Today, the company accomplishes that to a varying degree, but Hyper-V takes it to another level.

RackForce provides services up to the operating-system level, while customers load and manage their applications. Its Dynamic Dedicated Servers (DDS) give users a virtual space on a physical host, but now it wants to provide DDS-V, or virtualized DDS, where the data storage is pushed off to a storage-area network (SAN), allowing instantaneous scaling of applications.

Given Hyper-V's support for SANs, RackForce can scale its platform to add more processing power without having to worry about moving or copying data.

"The model we are rolling out relies on SANs," says Tim Dufour, CEO of RackForce. "[SAN support] does an incredible thing. It allows us to move capacity in seconds, so scalability is instantaneous."

In addition, Microsoft's new Virtual Machine Manager tool eventually will let RackForce find and allocate resources located anywhere in its forthcoming GigCenter data center, not just within a single DDS platform. RackForce currently has three British Columbia-based data centers that tap into hydropower.

Today RackForce has 2,500 server customers, 60 percent of which run on virtualized environments within DDS platforms. The other 40 percent are on traditional dedicated servers. Of the 60 percent using virtualization, just less than half are running Windows.

Dufour says the other major enhancements important in Hyper-V are the removal of limitations on processor support and elimination of the 4GB restriction imposed on RAM by Hyper-V's predecessor Virtual Server. Removing those limitations means customers won't "bump their heads" as they try to expand, he says. RackForce runs Hyper-V on IBM x3950 servers with four quad-core processors, and stacks four machines to create a platform with 16 processors and 64 cores.

While Hyper-V will help push RackForce forward, Microsoft's virtualization platform still is missing some needed elements, such as a complete set of provisioning tools, Dufour says. RackForce will offer its instantaneous scalability via a portal so users can service their own needs, but the company will have to tie that into its billing, ticketing and inventory systems. Currently RackForce has to do that integration itself.

The big ticket, however, is live migration, a feature Microsoft cut from the first version of Hyper-V. "That is important, and we are looking forward to it," Dufour says. "If we wanted to move from the x3950 platform and scale up beyond the current processor power, we could do that migration without any downtime."

Dufour knows the luxury of such a move because RackForce can do live migrations with its Linux-based virtualization platforms. "But our Hyper-V technicians are telling us it has come a long way and they are impressed. And these guys are typically Linux techies."

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