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Virtually Speaking: Reality Behind the Hype

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Sep 1, 2006


Amy Newman
ServerWatch's new weekly column looks beyond the smoke and mirrors to the very real comings and goings in the virtualization space.

It would be hard to ignore the zeitgeist growing around virtualization. In less than a decade, the playing field has gone from one company shouting into the wind to a market that had no idea what it was talking about to a packed arena — both in the stands and on the field.

Today, the virtualization vendors are selling not just software to transform one physical box into several (or many) independently operating units, but also applications optimized for virtualization and management tools positioned for virtual environment.

Even Microsoft has come to play, its offering carrying the simple name, Microsoft Virtual Server, as though simply announcing its arrival would result in instant market domination.

VMware, founded in 1998 and acquired by EMC in January 2004, was first on the field, and has yet to disperse for Redmond. It continues to dominate. In addition to Microsoft, Virtual Iron, SW Soft and XenSource also compete in this space. Open source is no stranger to the virtual pace, and despite clamoring from the major Linux vendors, Xen is project of choice.

VMware, Xen, and Microsoft are the de facto market leaders in no small part because they deliver the software that drives virtualization: the hypervisor. The hypervisor is a traffic cop of sorts. It is the heart of the virtualization tool and what enables multiple operating systems to simultaneously run on the host system without modification.

Now, when an ISV chooses to develop an application, it must determine which hypervisors to work with, as well as which operating systems. Virtual Iron, for example, uses the Xen hypervisor.

The rest of the IT industry has caught on, and everyone from the chip vendors, to the OEMS, to ISVs, are developing products with virtual environments in mind. Enterprises that decide to virtualize must decide at which level to do so — the chip, the server, or the application level.

Some argue the volume of the buzz surrounding virtualization has rendered it pure hype. After all, the concept of virtualization has been around as long as the IT industry itself. Previously, it was called partitioning, and the mainframes did it.

Now, with a free program from VMware, you can turn a desktop PC into multiple systems. Virtualization is everywhere and available to everyone.

But are admins drinking the Kool-Aid?

And does this rampant exposure make virtualization a flavor of the month or a technology of the future?

Virtually Speaking is a wager that the technology is, if not to stay then, to have an impact. The weekly column will look at the very real comings and goings in the virtual space. The puns will be limited, but the commentary witty and concise. However the landscape changes, it's going to be a fun (and probably bumpy) ride.

Hop on board!

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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