Ask the IT Consultant

Apr 8 2011   8:00AM GMT

Virtualization – Not dead yet…

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question:  Virtualization has been the enabling technology for the entire cloud revolution.  Will there be any new development in virtualization tools and architectures?

Virtualization is no longer news.  Over the past 5 years, over 90% of all enterprises have converted their data centers from racks of physical servers to virtual architectures, with an average project cost savings of over $800K.  These numbers are compelling, but over the past two years the virtualization market has shifted yet again.

While VMware still has close to a monopoly on the enterprise market, as the market shifts more toward the use of the cloud, that lock-hold is weakening.  The majority of cloud offerings, like Amazon, and Terremark (recently purchased by Verizon) to name just a few examples, are not based on VMware, but rather either the Open Source Xen architecture or a proprietary platform.  The purchase of XenSource by Citrix a few years ago was a very smart move indeed. With the backing of Citrix, which has long been a major player in the enterprise market, the Xen platform is rapidly becoming more attractive to companies that have traditionally shied away from the Open Source software model.

VMware itself is jumping on the cloud bandwagon and has been rolling out new offerings that appeal to enterprises that want the flexibility and efficiency of the public cloud offerings in their private clouds.  The IT department is going to be hard pressed to win an argument with a business unit about why they cannot deliver a new server in less than six weeks, when the users can already get that service from Amazon in 20 minutes.  The vCloud offering includes such cloud friendly features such as simplified chargeback mechanisms, IT as a Service (IaaS) architectures, and self-service portals.  As the server market is rapidly saturated, VMware is actively developing desktop virtualization products, thin application technologies, and enterprise class identity management platforms to handle thousands of virtual enterprise desktops and applications.  The application, code named Horizon, is basically an ID Management proxy server that interprets a company’s AD infrastructure and presents it out to SaaS applications.  The drivers for this technology are security and control, not cost savings.  Ironically, companies have rediscovered the dumb terminal without realizing it.

The biggest news on the technology side is the development of para-virtualization and new development platforms that are optimized for virtualized and cloud environments.  Para-virtualization first developed in Xen and now in available in VMware, is a way to optimize the virtual environment by sharing resources.  By having the virtual machines share memory, CPU and disk I/O, the virtual environment can be run more efficiently than the traditional stove-piped guest OS architecture.  However, the cost is fewer supported platforms because the para-virtualized kernels must be supported by the underlying hypervisor and more risk that the security between the guest servers can be breached.  The cloud environment is heavily dependent on para-virtualization.

The other recent development is the renewed interest in new tools that leverage the virtual and cloud environments.  VMware’s purchase of SpringSource in August 2009 is an indication that the development of cloud enabled applications is going to be a huge market in the next few years.  VMware has continued to demonstrate their enthusiasm for this market with its March 2011 acquisition of WaveMaker, a company that has built tools that make it easier to use the Spring tools platform.

In the future, I would see a return to stripped down operating systems that are optimized for delivering applications like web services and databases.  Think of it as sort of a full circle reassessment of the definition of an application and an operating system.  Who needs a VM Windows server with web services on it, when what you really want is a web server?

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc. Moving companies’ IT services into the cloud the right way, the first time!

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