A Deluge of Virtualization

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It started as a trickle, but virtualization is now flooding into the enterprise. New research indicates that the vast majority of organizations are rolling out the technology with expectations that it will vastly improve everything from consolidation and energy consumption to application delivery and resource allocation.


The Yankee Group's recent global virtualization survey estimates that 72 percent of worldwide firms have either already deployed or are about to deploy virtualization solutions in some form or another. Nearly three quarters of that group are eyeing virtualization for the data center, citing disaster recovery and backup and licensing issues as the main drivers. And probably of particular interest to Apple, nearly a quarter say they plan on using Macintosh servers to virtualize their Windows XP and Vista desktops.


Virtualization is likely to outdistance the last major fad to have hit the enterprise, server clustering, according to this report from Baseline's David Strom. In addition to improved utilization, virtualization also delivers higher availability and near-term failover at less cost and with less disruption than previous clustering solutions. At best, traditional clustering will still be needed in situations requiring original server states, such as transaction processing.


For most other applications, however, virtualization is practically eliminating downtime and dramatically reducing overall energy costs, as highlighted by this profile of United Bancorp. The company has deployed the VMware Infrastructure 3 platform and has so far shut down 38 servers by loading more than 100 virtual machines on five physical hosts. Now, if one machine goes down, users are automatically shifted to another one without interruption.


It's important to remember, though, that virtualization is an enterprise-wide adjustment. Viewing it as simply a server solution will lead to problems in other areas, namely storage. As pointed out in this interview with Left Hand's Chris McCall, increased virtualization can introduce disruptive storage configuration changes in static RAID groups. Shared storage is one solution, but it will require sophisticated management technology.


There is also the impact on networking resources to consider. A raft of virtual I/O solutions has arisen to handle the increased throughput that multiple virtual machines place on the physical infrastructure.


It's been said that the enterprise is not just a collection of inert systems but an organic creation where changes to one component can vastly affect another. Virtualization certainly bears this out. The benefits are very real, but they require an implementation strategy -- one that envisions almost a complete reworking of the enterprise.