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CentOS, Ubuntu Help Rev Up Windows, Linux Clouds

With public and private clouds in mind, venture-funded Certeon is now using Linux development tools running on Ubuntu and CentOS to build "virtual accelerator" software for speeding application response time on congested Windows- and Linux-based networks.

"If you’ve ever tried to download a document such as a PowerPoint presentation on a slow Internet connection--and you’ve sat there three or four minutes waiting for it--then you’ve been dealing with network congestion," illustrated Gareth Taube, Certeon’s VP of marketing.

Certeon, however, targets its application acceleration products not at individuals but at Fortune 1000 corporations and other large organizations, most of them with somewhere between 10 and 100 branch locations.

Specifically, the start-up is developing its aCelera Virtual Appliance software on Linux platforms that include Ubuntu for VMWare and CentOS for Microsoft Hyper-V, said Jane Shurtleff, director of marketing communications at Certeon.

Designed to raise application response time over wide area networks (WANs) by as much as 95 percent, the Linux-enabled software is now in use by organizations that include Unitus, a financial solutions provider with offices in the US and India, and Shift Communications, a bi-coastal public relations firm.

Certeon initially produced only hardware devices for application acceleration. But about a year ago, the company began expanding its line-up to encompass acceleration software. As the main driver beyond that move, Taube pointed to interest among many big organizations in extending virtualization and server consolidation beyond the data center.

"People were telling us, 'Our data center is virtualized, but we don’t have virtualized servers at the branches,'" Taube elaborated.

Industry analysts confirm that companies are growing tired of supporting multiple proprietary devices at various locations, and that they’re now pursuing virtualization as a way to streamline remote administration.

"CIOs don’t want to put another box out in the branch offices; the more they can minimize the number of servers, and not have to pay infrastructure costs, maintenance costs and so on the better for them," said Robert Laliberte, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

"In the branch office, a virtualized server could host a virtual WOC appliance, as well as other virtual appliances that would normally require separate hardware platforms. Part of the promise of these technologies is that when server virtualization pervades the enterprise, application acceleration with virtual WOCs can be rapidly implemented wherever it is needed and without the installation of additional hardware," according to Jim Metzler, vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

"Our software accelerator uses a number of technologies for improving application response time," Taube said. Essentially, these technologies include a proxy for the "chatty" and bandwidth-consuming TCP/IP protocol; software-based compression; and stream deduplication, a technology that can prevent the need to send all of the data in a file by keeping a local history of similar previous file transmissions.

Certeon has released three versions of the Linux-enabled aCelera software in one year, enhancing the software each time around. "In the latest release, we made the processes very lightweight and highly scalable, and we improved the compression algorithms," said Taube.

In addition, Certeon has already optimized its software-based virtual appliance to speed remote access to Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint Server, EMC's Documentum and eRoom, USG Solid Edge, and a number of other distributed applications

The start-up has also created blueprints for software configuration management (SCM) tools that include IBM Rational Clearcase and Microsoft’s Application Virtualization (App-V) 4.5 and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2007 R2.

For its part, Rational Clearcase includes a tool called Clearcase Remote Client (CCRC). While CCRC enables developers to perform SCM operations remotely, network latency can slow application response time in performing operations that modify and transfer files across the network.

"Our aCelera software accelerates CCCR traffic over the WAN to remote users.. So we needed to learn about how CCRC works," Shurtleff maintained. Certeon used CCRC during validation and performance testing of the aCelera product.

Results of the internal testing demonstrated an improvement of as much as 93 percent in CCRC response time. For a 10 MB Doc file, aCelera showed a reduction from 158 seconds to 13 seconds for Check-in and from 112 to 8 seconds for check-out.

Beyond allowing for rapid software development, the use of Linux is saving money for Certeon. "The primary reasoning behind using Linux as a development platform was the free OS license. So cost did play in the decision," Shurtleff acknowledged.

Linux development has gone smoothly at Certeon, Shurtleff said, despite the challenges posed by working with two Linux distributions supporting multiple virtualization environments, with different software following different release timetables.

"Our aCelera software currently supports two virtual machine operating systems, or hypervisors: VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V," she noted. "In order to develop that support within our product, we needed to use Ubuntu for VMware and CentOS for Microsoft Hyper-V. Neither of those versions of Linux supports both hypervisors."

After its May, 2008 rollout of the aCelera Virtual Appliance software, Certeon delivered support for Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V in November of last year and for VMware’s new vSphere "cloud operating system" on that product’s own launch date of April, 2009.

Meanwhile, for users interested in a bundled virtual server solution, Certeon recently entered into an outsourcing deal with IBM and its business partner Avnet. Under the multi-pronged agreement, Certeon has chosen IBM’s System X PC servers and help desk services to support its software-based virtualized accelerator.

Basically, Avnet takes delivery of the IBM servers, loads Certeon’s software, and ships the product to Certeon customers, making it easier for Certeon to focus on its core business of product development.

Looking down the virtual road, Taube foresees greater infrastructure and interconnectivity support from Certeon across emerging cloud environments.

"The paradigm for computing is changing, and we’ll be moving much closer to clouds, both public and private," he said. "To build clouds, customers need to be able to connect all of the pieces together. The cloud doesn’t work without a very flexible software delivery infrastructure."

 

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