The Virtually Efficient Revolution

By Mike Houghton (Send Email)
Posted Aug 2, 2006


Virtualization is not new; the technology has been used successfully for over a decade in mainframe environments. Yet just like most technologies, virtualization continues to evolve and with each advance, it becomes "new" again. The only thing standing between you and an ultra-efficient data center is a risk-averse manager with a tight grip on the war chest. Some insight into modern virtualization technology and proper due diligence is one way to loosen the grip.

Virtualization not only enables multiple operating environments and workloads to run independently on a single physical machine, it also allows for the pooling of multiple physical resources. Intel Corporation and VMware, Inc. recently announced the launch of Intel-VMware Virtualize ASAP, to help customers in the deployment of applications in virtual environments using VMware on Intel Xeon processor-based platforms.

Any way you slice it, some very big companies are expending considerable time and resources delving into this technology and that alone makes it worth a look.

Take Your Pick

There was a time when there were few options in the realm of virtualization. While you can continue to choose from industry leaders such as VMWare and Microsoft, there are now more options than ever before, including open source options such as Xen. The big hardware players, such as HP, Dell and IBM all offer virtualization options and have numerous case studies, seminars and resources to help you get started.

Getting More for Less

As with most "hot technologies" this one boasts cost savings and flexibility. The cost savings could be substantial depending on your environment. However, the flexibility afforded to those that manage multiple operating system environments and are in charge of failover processes could also be significant.

You can have multiple operating systems or application environments on one physical machine and manage them separately. This means if you must apply a patch that will require a re-boot to one environment; you can do so without affecting the others. The latest in virtualization software allows you to set up these virtual environments and manage and control them separately, as if they were on two different hardware platforms. This lets you to use that extra server space on that mission critical application server.

While larger companies stand to benefit more from the cost savings, smaller companies can certainly benefit from the flexibility of being able to do more with less. If you must deploy a new customer application environment that requires dedicated server resources, instead of speccing out that new hardware, just create the virtual server environment on an existing server. The environments can be moved from one physical space to another, which could streamline failover processes.

Cost Justification

Trying to get hardware approval for a new test environment for a new application or maybe even for data recovery or failover testing, but the man in the corner office won’t loosen the purse strings? He has probably already bit the bullet and spent the money to buy the hardware for mission critical system failover, but is probably struggling with the cost associated with non-critical applications.

This is the perfect scenario for virtualization. Talk to your hardware representative and maybe you can use hardware you already have in place or maybe you don’t need as much hardware as you thought. Then combine your needs with those of the man in the corner office and make your case. Odds are you that will get what you want if you can make the case that a virtualization software license and hardware requested will not only run the new application, it can provide failover services for multiple systems as if they were on separate physical machines.

Getting Started

So you received the approval, and you are ready to go virtual. The best way to get started is to speak with your hardware vendor. Most of the big players have already successfully implemented this technology in a variety of environments and can either assist you or put you in contact with real world companies that are willing to share their mistakes and successes.

If you are the don’t-need-any-help, never-read-the-manual-type, you may at least want to stick with what you know. Set up a test environment mirroring parts, or if you have the capacity, your entire environment. Conduct failover testing. Conduct performance testing. Move parts of the environment around. Gain a comfort level that comes when it has proven that it can really work for your enterprise and then let the consolidation begin.

The Right Choice for your Business?

The biggest drawback to virtualization technology is the risk. One physical server failure can cause multiple outages. However, careful planning can help to avoid or at least minimize this.

Although you may be uncomfortable introducing this technology into your current environment, the potential cost savings, productivity gains and resource availability make it an option that should not be ignored. If server consolidations, rapid application deployment, disaster recovery/failover solutions or on-demand resource availability are on your to-do list, consider virtualization.

Resources

HP Virtualization (PDF, 641 KB) - Link

Dell: Virtual Technology with Real Benefits - Link

About IBM Virtualization Engine - Link

VMware — Intel Virtualize ASAP Program - Link

This article was originally published on Enterprise IT Planet.

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