Sometimes, complexity begets complexity even when you try to make things
IT managers for companies are either battle-testing or outright buying
virtualization software from VMware, Microsoft
(Quote) or some other provider to help combat the sprawl of
physical servers in their datacenters. Virtualization software is touted for
its ability to run several operating systems or applications on fewer
This idea of using 25 machines to do the work of 100 is appealing to harried IT managers.
But virtualization, the industry is quickly learning, adds its own layer of
complexity: Though there might be only 25 physical servers, there may be 100
operating system images an IT manager must keep track of from one
computer console. This can get messy.
FastScale Technology, a startup founded in January 2006 by CEO Lynn LeBlanc, CTO Stevan Vlaovic and vice president of engineering Richard Offer, launched Composer Suite to help IT admins manage virtual servers in datacenters and Web farms.
The software, intended as a complement to server virtualization software
from VMware, Microsoft and others, automates the provisioning of virtual
server software so IT administrators aren’t stuck trying to rein in various
operating systems, update packs, libraries and scripts.
FastScale comes to market at a time when analysts predict virtual server
sprawl will create a submarket for new software providers. LeBlanc discussed this emerging market and her company’s inaugural
product in a recent briefing with internetnews.com.
Q: What are the datacenter issues FastScale Technology is trying to address?
There is so much complexity and systems admin time spent building
production-grade software environment. Part of it is the deployment and
operation, but the really big part, and the area we believe where there has
been limited innovation , is in the automation of building that working
software environment on the front end.
Without doing that, a lot of
consolidation falls on deaf ears because if you’ve got fragile and complex
software, it has to be isolated from one another. When you combine that with
peak load requirements, you really don’t have a choice but to spread it out
over physical and virtual servers.
Our view is this root cause of bloated,
complicated and fragile software makes this problem chronic. Most of the
solutions that have been deployed in the last three to five years have
focused on the back-end deployment and management but there’s been nothing
on the front-end complexity.
Q: Are you saying the virtualization software from VMware and Microsoft is
not working or causing more complexity?
I’m saying that they address a certain class of problem, which is once you
build a production-grade environment, as long as your application isn’t too
I/O intensive or CPU-bound, you can get some hardware gains by combining
things on a single physical machine. But what they don’t address is the
efficiency of what goes into those virtual containers.
We’re starting to see
more worry about virtual server sprawl just like we saw physical server
sprawl, because, while it may be easy to crank out a container, it’s just as
hard to manage them as it is to manage thousands of physical servers. We
work quite a lot with VMware and their ESX Server. By creating a very
efficient software environment that goes into the ESX container, customers
can run five times as many containers with the same level of performance.
Each container consumes less resources if you’ve got a more efficient
software stack to start with. Whether you’re using Opsware to provision or
VMware to consolidate, our focus is to address the root cause of software
Q: This means running FastScale’s Composer Suite in conjunction with VMware
or Opsware products. Aren’t you adding to the complexity by adding another
piece of software for an admin to worry about?
If you’re doing some trickery that moves things around but doesn’t actually
attack any fundamental problems. FastScale Composer Suite is non-invasive to
existing infrastructure, operating systems and applications. There are three
core technologies. In a traditional environment, whether you have a single
server or golden image, you have one or more applications — an operating
system that supports hundreds of thousands of applications, so it has quite
a lot of capability that your application is never going to exercise. From
Apache to IBM WebSphere, these applications call just a very small subset of
an operating system.
Our Application Blueprint technology is a series of algorithms that enable
us to determine what part of a full operating system will be called by that
application. We do this automatically, in seconds and at the application’s
Second, once we’ve identified the smaller set of resources, we can
build a very small self-contained package of the application resources, or
the Dynamic Application Bundle. What that delivers is about a 99 percent
smaller software environment.
Third, with Lightweight Provisioning, because
it’s so small and because it’s so lightweight, we’re able to provision the
package to bare metal in seconds instead of hours. The application software
stack is small enough to run in memory, and this non-persistence gives
customers flexibility to move workloads around.
For many customers, the
ability to run in a diskless mode is a big deal because it reduces hardware
failure and power consumption. When a job is complete, the server can
provision a new application bundle in less than a minute.