Virtual Memory: The Last Link in the Chain

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Considering all the benefits that virtualization has brought to servers, storage and networking so far, it's a wonder that more organizations are not looking to share some of that wealth with their memory architectures.

After all, most applications live and die according to how much memory is available at any given time. And restricting that resource to the confines of a single server seems like a sure way to kill off the kind of performance that virtualization within the wider infrastructure is supposed to enable.

At the moment, the only company that seems to be gaining any headway with memory virtualization is RNA networks, a Portland, Ore., firm that specializes in cache pooling technology that allows servers to share memory resources. As CEO Clive Cook explains it, memory is the great untapped resource in the data center in that it is light years faster than regular storage and is a key factor in ensuring the kinds of service levels that are crucial for hosted or cloud-based applications.

The company's RNAcache system allows data sets to access virtual, pooled memory shared across multiple servers. Not only does this dramatically increase the memory to working applications, it also allows the data to be accessed and processed simultaneously, reducing the overall memory load across the server network. Naturally, this allows applications to be scaled up to a greater degree without costly hardware upgrades. It also does wonders for applications that typically run heavy data loads, such as analytics, modeling and object caching.

Although the idea of virtual, pooled memory is a novel one, start-ups like RNA might not have the field to themselves for very long. Top platform vendors like IBM are already on the hunt for improved memory performance, with technologies like Active Memory Sharing (AMS) currently making its way onto top-of-the-line Power Systems.

Memory virtualization is the kind of technology that probably won't make major headlines in the months and years ahead. Most of the virtual action will take place on the broader infrastructure as enterprises gear up for the cloud. But it is one of those developments that will make the overall virtual environment just a little more productive.

Think of it as the IT equivalent to turning your amplifier up to 11.