Virtualization: The road to production

VMware and a supporting cast lead VMs into datacenters

2006 will be viewed as the year server virtualization broke out of the labs and QA centers and into production environments in IT shops all over the world. For the largest to the smallest infrastructures, it’s been a banner year for server consolidation.

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VMware’s release of VMware Infrastructure 3 brought a slew of features that make migrating to a virtual infrastructure simpler than ever. SWsoft’s Virtuozzo keeps chugging away at hosting centers worldwide, and Xen, the open source hypervisor, is finally making its presence felt, with Virtual Iron and XenSource releasing full virtualization products using Xen as the core technology, and the base Xen offering better OS support, including the ability to run Windows VMs.

A supporting cast of vendors such as PlateSpin and Vizioncore tightened their focus on filling the gaps in the over virtualization picture. Plate­Spin’s PowerRecon and PowerConvert assist in the planning and execution of physical-to-virtual (P2V) migration, and Vizioncore’s ESXRanger provides a solid backup strategy for all those new virtual machines. VMware hasn’t been standing still on those fronts, however, and released its own set of VM backup and P2V tools. The major server hardware vendors have been busy, too, providing their own P2V solutions and integrating VMware management tools into their overall server management frameworks.

Coupled with the unceasing increase in CPU performance, virtualization has paved the way for an epidemic of datacenter consolidation. IT directors looking to buy new hardware are suddenly being redirected by their integrators into spending a little more on hardware and VM licenses and collapsing dozens of physical servers to a few virtualization hosts. The benefits of reduced cooling and power costs are a powerful motivator, and the ability to turn the virtual infrastructure on a dime generally cinches the deal.

On the hardware side, AMD and Intel are committed to moving as much hypervisor code into CPU microcode as possible, providing a hardware assist that speeds execution at the VM level and allows physical hosts to handle more VMs. Every new generation of chips will have more virtualization hooks, which will push the focus of virtualization software vendors into the management and security realm, while simultaneously increasing VM performance. It’s a win-win situation for IT.

If you didn’t begin a virtualization plan in 2006, it’s time to do so. Fears of early adoption and immature frameworks no longer apply. If 2006 was the year that virtualization broke out, 2007 will be the year that it settles in. For both cost savings and flexibility, you’ll want virtualization at the core of your infrastructure sooner rather than later.

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