What’s all the fuss about virtual machines? From AMD to Intel, Microsoft to Novell to Red Hat, every major OS and hardware platform vendor today has a stake in the virtualization game. But the truth is that running multiple virtual systems on a single physical workstation or server is simply passé.
Sure, booting Windows 95 under VMware on Windows NT wowed the crowd back in 1998, but even then similar technology had enjoyed a venerable history -- virtual partitioning on mainframes date back to the 1970s. Over the years, commercial Unix vendors had steadily added virtualization features to their enterprise products. Why is it, then, that the industry now seems so hot to sell virtualization into the mainstream market?
If you examine how the market has changed in recent years, the answer is surprisingly clear: In the early days, the cost of entry to virtualized infrastructure was extreme and the applications were relatively limited, but the advent of affordable, robust virtualization on the x86 platform has meant that virtual machine technology is accessible to a broad audience for the first time, which coincides with inexpensive high-performance and high-reliability server hardware.
More important, as these customers begin to deploy virtual machines in production environments, demand for new management tools to take better advantage of virtualized environments is growing, and competition in this space is heating up. This year like never before, with the underlying technology mature and stable, vendors are rushing to market with new tools that use virtualization to address a broad range of challenges facing IT managers today.
The almighty buck
To a large extent, as is so often the case, the bottom line is driving customer interest in
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“Many small businesses are starting to get back into their server replacement cycle following Windows 2000/2003 upgrades of several years ago,” says Matt Prigge, senior network architect at SymQuest. “As a result, businesses that might usually buy servers one or two at a time are faced with the prospect of buying six or seven at a time. This provides a great opportunity to implement virtualization in architectures that might otherwise be too small to consider it. The prospect of gaining all of the many benefits of virtualization on two highly redundant servers for as much as or less than it would cost to reimplement a conventional installation is appealing.”
For larger enterprises, however, virtualization can be even more appealing. Peering into a large datacenter is usually an impressive sight -- dozens or hundreds of servers in racks, blinking lights, the whoosh of the air conditioning, the hum of the cooling fans -- but the hidden truth is that the CPUs of most of those servers are sitting idle. Sun Microsystems estimates that most production servers are only 15 percent utilized. The remainder of that potential is simply wasted, along with the power and HVAC resources necessary to maintain the physical hardware.