The End of Virtual Silos?

Arthur Cole

Are virtual environments about to become even more flexible?

It certainly seems that way with the new generation of live migration capabilities hitting the channel.

The great promise of virtualization was that it would break down the silo architectures that had arisen in most data centers over the years. But even as it proved effective at overcoming disparate hardware and software platforms, many users quickly realized that they were unable to move virtual machines across various environments -- meaning that you were essentially trading your hardware silos for virtual ones.

But the newest generations of live migration capabilities are claiming the ability to transport working VMs across multiple hosts, regardless of what type of operating system, computer platform or even CPU is involved.

AMD and Intel got the ball rolling in this direction recently with the settlement of a long-running anti-trust dispute, which included not only a hefty cash infusion for AMD but a new five-year cross-licensing agreement for their respective silicon architectures. The hope is that compatibility between the two companies' instruction sets will allow for a smoother transition of virtual machines between CPU platforms like the Xeon and Opteron.

Sun Microsystems was the first to seize on this possibility with the newest version (3.1) of the VirtualBox hypervisor, featuring what the company calls live "teleportation." With it, users will be able to move working VMs across various hosts without interrupting application performance or data flow. The idea is to be able to maintain service levels through transparent relocation of VMs in case hardware or software platforms need to be taken down. The company claims the migration can happen regardless of whether the original VM is moved to a new OS, from a server to a client or across various CPU architectures.

That kind of flexibility would be even more impressive if it could be extended outside the data center walls. But even here, we're seeing a lot of progress. NetEx recently teamed up with VMware to bring its HyperIP WAN optimization technology to the vCenter Converter, providing for physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual conversions over the wide area. The companies claim they are able to affect the migration of both hot and cold (active and idle) VMware ESX instances across the WAN.

VMware is also pursuing something similar with F5 Networks, although here there is more of a focus on live migration to and from the cloud. The system relies on a new class of workflow automation software that picks up much of the manual migration functions, making the process largely transparent to both the user and the administrator.

The main drawback to both of these systems is that they are tied to a single virtual environment: VMware's. Imagine the possibilities if someone were to come up with a single migration package that could transfer VMs across any hardware, software or host configuration, whether it's on the server, in the data center or on the moon?

Now that's what I would call a world without silos.

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