Virtualization: Back by Popular Demand

While Virtualization has been around since IBM mainframes ruled the world but it was not until VMware pioneered virtualization on Intel chipsets that this technology really began to gain momentum.

In the beginning days of IBM, their was a huge cost involved in the virtualization of the z/VM chipset. In addition to the cost, virtualization took up so much of the processor’s power that the systems ran slow and were not cost effective. Additionally, the technology on the chipsets was far behind where it needed to be.

Let’s fast forward to today where we are seeing Pentium IV chips with blazing speeds, cheap computers, and a more open market for virtualization to occur. Now that computers are so inexpensive, more and more IT shops are receptive to the idea of virtualization.

Many of these companies need a more efficient way consolidate their IT network infrastructure. With the lower cost of hardware combined with the rapid improvements in technology, virtualization is becoming increasingly popular.

As a technical consultant in the field, I am seeing the adoption of virtual machines due to the vast number of underutilized servers that are wasting space and costing companies thousands of dollars. These days, every third-party vendor has stringent requirements for their applications, and common practice for many years was to meet these requirements by freely purchasing what was necessary.

In most cases, this caused numerous servers to sit underutilized. This trend continued throughout the dot-com era and the IT boom. Then the IT meltdown occurred, and virtualization began to finally shine.

The slump caused companies throughout the U.S. to look very closely at their budgets and the amount of money they were spending on computers — especially leased computers — and it didn’t take very long for them to realize that server consolidation was the way to go.

For example, if you have a single quad processor running at 8% and sitting idle for 92% of the time and you need additional servers, virtualization would be able to efficiently and cost-effectively take advantage of that machine rather than purchasing additional servers. I have seen server rooms with 100-plus servers drop to 25 servers with a NAS or SAN because they were taking advantage of virtualization.

Everywhere you look, there is a need that virtualization can meet. Take the companies today that are still using business software that runs only in a Windows NT 4.0 environment; they may not have the time, money, or ability to purchase an upgraded version of NT but the need to move their business to the latest Microsoft operating system exists nonetheless.

Virtualization is the solution to this incompatibility. The company can upgrade their domain to Windows 2003 server, install a virtual product, and load Windows NT 4.0. Then the legacy applications can be run on the virtual server.

Or consider the many businesses that need the ability to have zero downtime and in addition want to be able to fully utilize their two- and four-processor servers. By using the virtualization technology, companies are able to run more applications on a single server than ever before. With the ability to move virtual systems around as necessary and the small amount of overhead needed to run this technology, virtualization is becoming more and more popular for companies to implement.

Two of the more popular vendors in this area include: VMware (an EMC Corp. company as of Q1 2004) and Microsoft (formerly known as Connectix). VMware has been in the virtualization market for quite some time and has an extensive product line. Their flagship products include VMWARE Workstation, GSX and ESX Server.

Microsoft recently entered the virtualization market as well with their buyout of Connectix. Their current product Virtual PC 2004 and Virtual Server also takes advantage of virtualization of Intel based systems.

Virtualization is cost effective way to add additional value to your company and is the wave of the future for corporate networks to meet their needs.

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, and, now, CIO Update. He also has a forthcoming ‘how-to’ book on VMware Workstation and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.