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IT integrators experiment with private cloud optimization

Virtualization consultants kick the tires on FastScale cloud management software to assist IT shops in turning virtual servers into private clouds.

IT integrators Sigma Host LLC and 4Base Technology are experimenting with beta software from FastScale Technology to revamp the way IT shops manage virtual servers.

Seth Hak, owner of Deleware-based Sigma Host, said that the ubiquity of virtualization for his customers is prompting new twists in the search for efficiency. Hak claims with so many tools available, "managing virtual machines is trivial" and now companies want to cram more and more VMs into available hardware. To that end, Hak has been experimenting with FastScale Stack Manager, a new private cloud middleware tool that streamlines management for a mildly eye-watering price.

FastScale Stack Manager WorkGroup Edition looks at what a particular server is being used for and trims away all unneeded software. Theoretically, it can reduce a standard RHEL server deployment from the stock 2GB to 30MB, if all it's doing is a lean LAMP implementation (a very basic website, for instance). That's nothing special; there are lots of Linux distributions in that size range that can provide anything from a Web server or a network appliance to an office ready desktop.

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What makes FastScale useful, according to Paul Camacho, virtualization consultant with Sunnyvale, CA-based 4Base Technology, is that it does it all automatically.

Camacho said centralized control is the best use he's found for Stack Manager. "Once you get past the consolidation 'cool' factor of miniature servers, the true value is in provisioning and patch management." One client he's helping wanted better SOA control for their development lifecycle, and found Stack Manager useful for the built-in management. Having centralized, consistent machine images also helped eliminate variables in test environments as well, he said.

The downsides include the decidedly enterprise-level price tag, which starts at $25,000 for five users, a price that may discourage the hoi-polloi. It also requires a complete revamp of existing business practices to maximize efficiency. According to Camacho, a large client in the process of assimilating FastScale is spending the better part of a year planning and making the migration. This kind of time investment takes away from money-making, an additional cost, and organizations with existing SOA practices may find a total infrastructure migration a tough pill to swallow in cost conscious times.

Camacho does say he expects savings to show themselves very quickly for his client once the move is finished.

Pick and choose your software stack from a "gold" image, run it through FastScale's proprietary repository of services and software, and out pops the smallest footprint you can get away with. The concept is called the "Just enough Operating System".

JeOS is applied broadly; FastScale CEO Lynn LeBlanc said they can trim a standard Windows Server 2003 image down to about 700MB, no mean feat. Stack Manager also does patch management, provisioning and automatic scaling from a single Web UI, making it easier for data centers trying to move to private cloud. Currently, Stack Manager works for RHEL and Win2K flavors, with plans to add new distribution support every six weeks throughout the beta, based on customer demand.

LeBlanc added that all goodies are under the hood, explaining "The repository is our [intellectual property]". She said that the savings are in patch management, a notorious timesink for admins and conservation of costly computing resources. As needs scale up and down, FastScale's hands-off management will commission and decommission computing power and servers in near real-time.

FastScale is aimed at companies with their own infrastructure and fast changing environments "The more dynamic the environment, the higher the value proposition." said LeBlanc.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for Write to him at And check out our Troposphere blog.

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