What Virtualization Means for Enterprise Software Tomorrow

Dennis Byron

I'm a software guy. Even for the 20-odd years I worked for hardware companies, I was a software guy. After all, what did all those nerds with horned-rim glasses and pocket protectors think sold the hardware? It was the software, of course. Still, every once in a while it was good to view the real world by getting out on the shop floor to smell the solder, watch the women with the incredible eyesight string "the doughnuts" in core memory and see what a 19-inch OEM rack that's about to become a CAT-scan device looks like without its skins.


You can't do that anymore unless you metaphorically get the tour of the real world, the hardware world, as I did June 18 listening to Boyd Davis, general manager of the Intel Server Platforms Group. He was speaking to us software guys at the Red Hat Summit in Boston.


And the real world is not just virtualized servers anymore, but virtualization technology (VT) everywhere: for direct I/O (Intel VT-d), for flexible configurations, for high transaction-processing performance and more. Intel's VT vision begins with processing, of course. "A server is a file," says Davis. OK, sure, I get that


But the real news is the way Intel is making it newest architectures "virtualization aware." Until now (meaning for the last 50 years, starting with IBM VSE, and so forth) virtualization has just been software tricking up the hardware. But Intel is taking it deeper than that with VT-d and its other VT technologies. This Intel document will provide detail for those, like me, who like to smell the solder. For others just consider some of the possibilities:

"As IT consolidates server workloads, more virtual machines (VMs) will run on servers, with a growing number of I/O devices to support them. Approaches to I/O device virtualization... can result in lower performance as I/O throughput increases... But, hardware assistance in concert with system software.... allows system software to securely assign particular I/O devices to VMs directly."

This becomes increasingly important when you consider that "I/O devices" will not just mean a PC with disk and a printer. It will mean zetaflops (if that's a word) of network-attached storage. It will not only be your iPhone or knock-off, but all those surfaces Microsoft is talking about with its surface computing PR blitz. It will be your car. It will be your TV. It will mean every RFID tag in transit anywhere in the supply chain. It will be the medical device (even literally the bed in the hospital).


Thinking of it this way really puts some meat around the term virtualization. So back to my enterprise software with a new perspective.

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