Making virtual progress

22 Aug 2007

Virtualisation technology in the Intel server environment has stepped up to the next level, so why aren’t we reading more about it?

Just say the word ‘virtualisation’ in the right context and you are greeted with grave shakings of heads and knowing looks. Everyone in the IT world has at some point flirted with the virtual and made it their business to get their heads around what some are calling the biggest thing in IT.

Everyone talks about it and can see its benefits; but there is still a strong perception in the Irish press that only the most daring actually dip their toe in the water and use it in their production environment.

Virtualisation on Intel has moved on a lot since it first started making waves a couple of years ago.

At the time, it was very new. It was leading-edge technology and was soon hailed as the solution to all IT problems. Data centre spiralling out of control? Virtualise. Hardware costs becoming ridiculous? Virtualise.

There was a bandwagon; vendors and resellers were jumping on it and customers were looking on suspiciously; but that is no longer the case.

Nowadays, it is proven that virtualisation technology actually does what it says on the tin; it’s powerful and revolutionary technology.

It has left the test and development environment and is commonly used in production. An interesting fact is that when this technology began life it was originally intended as a way of reducing server sprawl and getting better use out of server resources such as CPU and memory.

And yes, it helps contain spiralling data centre and hardware costs by maximising existing IT resources as it is ideal for server consolidation. But it now offers much more than that.

Over the years the customers, not the vendors, are adapting its use into areas like high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR). And take the whole area of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for example; it was, in fact, developed by a customer of VMware who adapted the server technology to run it on his desktop environment!

It is the first time in many years that a technology has been fully embraced by customers, who are providing much of the innovation and direction.

Strength in numbers

Virtualisation has now matured into a stable technology. Granted, like all new technologies, virtualisation has had teething problems.

IT managers and vendors were confronted with situations that had never been seen before. Some applications couldn’t run on a virtual machine. Some virtual machines couldn’t be backed up properly. Some environments were just not ideal candidates for virtualisation.

But as newer versions of virtualisation products were released the cracks were largely smoothed out.

And we are now left with some extremely strong offerings, from vendors including VMware and PlateSpin, that are currently being used in highly critical environments relating to HA and DR.

VMware has more than 20,000 enterprise customers including all of the Fortune 100 companies, with over 86pc of them running virtualisation in production.

PlateSpin was only founded in 2003 and has over 2,000 customers using its award-winning virtualisation technology, and this number is growing fast.

But as this technology has evolved and as customers in Ireland have started embracing it, intriguingly, a lot of coverage of this technology still centres on ‘What is virtualisation?’ and ‘Virtualisation for consolidation’.

While it is crucial to acknowledge that this is still new technology which requires a certain amount of introduction, the reality as we see it, is that the Irish market has taken virtualisation to the next level.

Greater focus should now be put on its more cutting-edge aspects. From a product point of view there is the latest release of VMware and its integrated tools for HA, PlateSpin’s P2V, V2P and P2P solutions and the noticeable progress of Microsoft’s Virtual Server offering.

Also, we should be focusing on what companies are now doing with it on a day-to-day basis.

Right now, the advantages of using virtualisation technology are most obvious in the HA and DR contexts, because it offers an easily managed environment, over multiple locations, with incredibly high failover capacity and quick return on investment. This allows companies to save money and maximise their budgets. Simple disaster recovery? Saving money? Incredible but true, to the point where the technology is nearly marketing itself based on customer feedback.

There are exciting solutions being developed using this technology in mission-critical environments.

Some of these implementations are taking place right here on our very doorstep. That is a whole new board game. Virtualisation technology has progressed to the next level.

By Monica Heck, marketing executive, Unitech Systems