Beyond the software, the latest generation of chips from both AMD and Intel are designed with hardware virtualization in mind. Intel’s VT (Virtualization Technology) and AMD’s SVM (Secure Virtual Machine) CPU extensions move some of the heavy lifting in virtual hardware emulation from software to hardware, and shift certain memory management functions into CPU microcode that today are handled in software. These endeavors are resulting in x86-platform CPUs better suited to the unique workloads created by virtual servers.
Still other vendors are busy adding pieces to the top of the pile, including virtual server management, consolidation, and migration tools. For example, HP and IBM Tivoli are offering tools that integrate into their overall management products, while even Dell is getting into the game with VMware tools for OpenManage.
Smaller ISVs are seeing opportunities as well; PlateSpin and Leostream both market server consolidation and migration tools that integrate with VMware and Microsoft virtualization solutions (see Test Center Review).
Making the move
Viewed as a whole, these new technologies are progressing at a breakneck pace. The server virtualization landscape has almost completely changed from this time a year ago. In nearly every measurable metric -- including performance, stability, SAN integration, and 64-bit support -- the new crop of virtualization platforms has charged ahead.
The other side of that coin, however, is that virtualized infrastructure isn’t without its challenges. One concern that worries many admins is the issue of putting too many eggs in one basket. A major hardware failure on a single server only affects the services on that server; if that server is running 10 virtual servers, however, the stakes are much higher.
What’s more, many virtualization customers come to realize that the hardest part of making the move to a virtual datacenter is the migration. It’s easy to install a big server and build a half-dozen virtual servers on it, but at first blush, migrating from the physical to the virtual realm is no different than a physical-to-physical server migration. In short, it can be a costly, time-consuming process, fraught with problems.
These problems aren’t insurmountable, however. In fact, you can expect to see more solutions aimed at addressing them to appear this very year. Any way you cut it, a peek into the datacenter in your future will show far fewer blinking lights and fewer servers in the racks. But this won’t mean fewer servers to manage; in fact, that number is likely to grow, since application silos will be the rule, not the exception. When it’s so simple to provide a service on a discrete server without worrying about resource utilization, dependencies, hardware requisitioning and installation, virtualization is a virtual no-brainer.
The only real question that remains is what flavor works best for your use case. In fact, the answer to that may actually be multiple solutions. (For now, that means multiple management tools, but even that may soon change.) Regardless of the flavor, server virtualization is entering adolescence with a solid foundation, a seemingly endless array of opportunities, and a very bright future.