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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: April 2008

The most disruptive technology

April 2008
Andrew Seldon

Virtualisation is changing the way we think about computing, from the desktop to the data centre. Network Times attended VMworld Europe to see what VMware, the leader in virtualisation is doing.

Dr Mendel Rosenblum, VMware co-founder and chief scientist at the Genius Bar
Dr Mendel Rosenblum, VMware co-founder and chief scientist at the Genius Bar
Over 4500 people and 100 sponsors and exhibitors attended the first VMworld virtualisation conference in Europe at the end of February. The sold-out attendance was testimony to the critical role virtualisation is playing in the world today.
It is not only server virtualisation that is making news. In fact, the ability to run more than one operating system, each independent of the other on servers and even desktops is old hat. The manic exhibition floor at the VMware's VMworld conference highlighted just how far virtualisation has expanded into every corner of the IT world and how much further it still has to go.
Virtualisation is where IT is at. VMware is fortunate that it was among the first to jump on the bandwagon, some may even say it built the wagon. Its technology is ahead of its rivals and it is continually pushing the ball.
Consider Microsoft's Hyper-V. It is still in beta and does not provide the management tools to effectively run an infrastructure with multiple virtual machines. Furthermore, it does not have the third-party support that VMware does.
Citrix is another competitor with a complete virtualisation offering, similar to VMware's, covering the desktop to the data centre, and including management tools. However, it has also failed to get third-party support in fast enough.
Most companies running on top of a virtual engine first standardise on VMware technology, and may then look at the other options - which includes the likes of Sun and Novell, etc. (see sidebar below: Virtual everything).
Real solutions to real problems
According to Dawid Ras, senior solutions strategist at CA, virtualisation splits a physical device into multiple logical devices. "This enables more efficient use of technology while leveraging the economies of scale. This spans across all infrastructure domains. It starts with terminal services at the desktop, then the virtual private network, virtualised servers, SOA applications, grid computing, and so the list goes on."
Dawid Ras, senior solutions strategist at CA
Dawid Ras, senior solutions strategist at CA
Ras provides the following example: 10 physical servers run at different utilisation levels, Server A could be less than 10% utilised and Server B constantly at 100%. By moving these servers to a single hardware platform and vitalising the instances you can provide the exact capacity requirements and both will run at say 50%, or on an average where you want them to be. You now have the ability to introduce more servers without introducing more hardware. You can then run, for example, 10 Web servers during the day and shut half of them down to run your batch processing at night.
"Virtualisation enables the provisioning of IT services in a virtual environment. The main benefit is to deliverer a perfect balance between cost and quality in IT. Having capacity available in an instant can dramatically speed up the provisioning of services, and changing service levels on the fly. A couple of years ago best effort IT services was the norm, but with the current IT service quality demands, organisations need to act in seconds and not days and months. Think about the components that support a Web application, the Web is in many cases the first touch or point of contact with your customer. Many Fortune 500 companies cannot afford even a minute of downtime. Virtualisation enables the facilitation of this demand."
Effective virtualisation is all about delivering service to clients (internal and external).
It is all about delivery
According to Sheldon Hand, presales consulting manager at Symantec, "as data centre managers increasingly turn to virtualisation and standardisation to contain costs and manage growth, there is a clear need for tools and technologies to administer both physical and virtual environments in a more consistent and comprehensive manner."
Sheldon Hand, presales consulting manager at Symantec
Sheldon Hand, presales consulting manager at Symantec
This is according to Symantec's latest State of the Data Centre Report, a study set out to explore issues data centre managers are facing today, which states that two-thirds of data centre managers said their centres are becoming too complex to manage the high business demands required from them.
"Businesses today are demanding higher application availability and rapid integration of new technologies in the midst of massive amounts of data which needs to be protected per privacy laws and government regulations."
The Symantec report states that 65% of respondents report formal internal service level agreements (SLAs) exist in their organisation, 32% report service-level demands have rapidly increased, while 51% report they have had more difficulty meeting service-level demands during the past two-year period.
Server virtualisation and consolidation are considered top cost containment strategies for the majority of respondents in the United States, while other countries focus more on offloading work through the automation of tasks, outsourcing and standardisation.
According to the report there is a reason for the regional difference. In the United States, VMware is the dominant choice for service and application virtualisation efforts. Outside the United States, a higher percentage rely more heavily on solutions from Microsoft, IBM and HP. Those that would use Microsoft for server virtualisation might also be waiting for the more robust virtualisation features starting in the Windows Server 2008 range.
"These solutions can empower data centre professionals to master the growing complexity of their data centres, and have greater confidence that they can deliver against the aggressive SLAs that have been set for them. Staffing issues however remain a problem. 86% of respondents have difficulty in finding qualified and highly skilled applicants in complex data centre environments," Hand says.
VMware Infrastructure
VMware's latest offering to meet these data centre infrastructure needs is VMware Infrastructure 3. Infrastructure 3 includes VMware ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 that give users new automation functionality, improved availability and higher performance for mission critical workloads.
"Our customers have been using VMware Infrastructure to simplify management, lower costs, better manage IT capacity, and provide greater service levels," said Raghu Raghuram, vice president of products and solutions for VMware. "This new release builds upon our virtualisation platform to deliver the non-stop virtual infrastructure, higher performance and better management."
Numerous performance optimisations in ESX Server 3.5 such as support for paravirtualised Linux and large memory pages help bring significant performance gains to many common workloads such as Java applications and Oracle databases.
"The next phase in virtualisation growth within the enterprise is resource automation to yield improved data centre flexibility and lower administrative costs," says Burton Group senior analyst Chris Wolf. "Streamlining IT operations in what is fast becoming the next generation data centre is best achieved by deploying a mature hypervisor combined with transparent storage management, proven high availability, and an intelligent management layer capable of increasing system responsiveness as workload demands fluctuate. Today's enterprises have high expectations for virtualisation platforms and vendors that deliver on those expectations are best positioned for long term success."
VMware ESX Server 3.5 and VirtualCenter 2.5 provides the following new features:
* Virtualisation platform enhancements help deliver significant performance gains for the most memory and I/O intensive workloads:

* Large memory pages for both ESX Server as well as guest operating systems improve memory processing for memory intensive workloads such as databases.

* Support for TCP Segmentation Offload and jumbo frames reduces the CPU overhead associated with processing network I/O, and will benefit workloads such as Citrix and Windows Terminal Services.

* Support for paravirtualised Linux improves the performance of Linux workloads.

* VMware Storage VMotion enables live migration of virtual machine disks from one data storage system to another with little to no disruption or downtime.
Administrators can dynamically balance storage workloads and address performance bottlenecks by migrating virtual machine disks to the best available storage resource, minimising service disruptions.
* Furthermore, VMware Update Manager automates patch and update management for VMware ESX Server hosts and virtual machines by tracking certain patch levels and manually applying the latest security/bug fixes. Patching of offline virtual machines enforces higher levels of patch standards compliance than physical environments. Integration with VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) enables zero-downtime VMware ESX Server host patching capabilities.
* VMware Guided Consolidation, a feature of VMware VirtualCenter enables smaller companies to get started with server consolidation in a step-by-step tutorial fashion. A wizard discovers physical servers, identifies consolidation candidates, converts them to virtual machines, and intelligently places them onto the optimal VMware ESX Server or VMware Server hosts.
* VMware Distributed Power Management is an experimental feature that reduces power consumption in the data centre through intelligent workload balancing. Working in conjunction with VMware DRS, Distributed Power Management is designed to automatically power off servers not currently needed in order to meet service levels, and automatically power on servers as demand for compute resources increases.
Down to the desktop
Virtualisation does not stop on the server though. VMware has also extended similar features to the desktop. This will allow IT managers to deploy virtual machines on every PC, making the desktop infrastructure easier to manage, faster to deploy, less costly and more secure.
The company says virtual machines deployed on desktops are "protected from disaster, disruption, attack, or theft and are therefore the best environments in which to run applications and store user files and data. In addition, VMware virtual desktops are always-current because thousands of virtual machines can be updated instantly from the data centre without touching a single desktop."
"Virtualisation is fundamentally changing the desktop and providing a better way to manage the desktop experience," said Jeff Jennings, vice president of desktop products and solutions at VMware. "VMware virtual desktops enable a one-to-many deployment model, making it easy to update to a new version of an application, rollout entirely new applications, or deploy the most current operating system. VMware is also making it possible for workers to take their virtual desktops with them as they travel or work from home."
Traditional distributed desktop computing - where everyone in a company has her or his own PC or laptop loaded with applications and data - is costly to own, complex and time-consuming to manage, and can be impossible to secure. By virtualising desktops, in other words, deploying them in a virtual machine that is managed from within the data centre where they are easier and more cost-effective to manage, IT can quickly provision new desktops to employees, wherever they are, flexibly and efficiently.
IDC predicts the total market for virtual desktop infrastructure products and services will exceed $1 billion by 2011.
It is not merely multiple desktops on one device that defines desktop virtualisation. At VMworld, VMware highlighted three advances that will allow organisations to scale virtual desktop deployments to thousands of users and let workers access desktops and applications both online and offline:
* Scalable virtual image technology - allows organisations to quickly deploy, update, and publish desktop images to thousands of virtual machines, accomplishing many tasks in just minutes that previously took hours with physical PCs. Scalable virtual image technology delivers lower operational costs through scalable desktop image management and reduces storage requirements up to 90% for virtual desktop infrastructure environments.
* Offline virtual desktop infrastructure - enables end users to 'check out' personalised virtual desktops running on VMware virtual desktop infrastructure to a notebook computer for use offline and then 'check back in' to the same desktop running in their virtual desktop infrastructure environment. Checking in will synchronise the virtual images.
* Application virtualisation technology (formerly Thinstall - VMware also unveiled the beta version of its application virtualisation product, expected to be generally available later this year. Based on the company's recent Thinstall acquisition, VMware application virtualisation simplifies application deployment and management by reducing the time and effort to test, package, install, and update applications in physical and virtual desktop environments.
"VMware is once again transforming computing and this time it is aimed at the desktop," said Chris Tunnecliff, group infrastructure architect at Aspen Insurance. "Through innovations like these ... VMware is showing how a virtual desktop matches a physical desktop in terms of user experience but far exceed physical desktops when it comes to manageability and security. With VMware desktop virtualisation, we are delivering complex, resource-hungry applications to users in ways simply not possible on physical systems. In addition, we are able to dynamically allocate resources to individual users on demand in an environment that is extremely safe and reliable."
Safety and security
Of course, running multiple servers on one piece of hardware does raise the question of security. If someone gets access to the hypervisor hosting multiple systems they can cause havoc.
VMware has therefore launched its VMsafe solution for protecting applications running in virtual machines. The VMsafe APIs allow vendors to develop their own security products to protect a virtual infrastructure.
VMsafe technology integrates at the hypervisor layer to provide a new way to detect and eliminate the latest generation of malware. The technology provides transparency into the memory, CPU, disk and I/O systems of the virtual machine, and monitors every aspect of the execution of the system. Security products built on VMsafe technology will be able to stop malware before it harms a machine or steals data. 20 security vendors have already agreed to work with VMsafe technology.
Everyone is doing it
Demonstrating the demand for virtualisation technologies, VMworld was also the launch pad for number of hardware vendors to announce the integration of VMware's hypervisor in certain servers. VMware ESX 3i hypervisor will be integrated in servers from Dell, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, HP and IBM. Products will be shipped by the end of April.
Diane Greene, president and chief executive officer of VMware, noted, "Customers can now get VMware pre-integrated and pre-configured for the hardware platform of their choice for immediate standalone server consolidation. As customers want to expand their adoption and get more value from virtualisation, they can upgrade from the ESX 3i hypervisor to VMware's complete data centre virtualisation and management suite, VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3)."
Diane Greene, president and CEO in her keynote
Diane Greene, president and CEO in her keynote
The next step in the virtualisation phenomenon is to deliver the ability to easily failover between virtualised servers and even data centres, functionality which is in its infancy, but will soon be deliverable in the real world.
Virtualisation really is a disruptive technology. It changes the game. Hardware vendors, for example, need to help customers use less hardware if they want to keep them. Software vendors need to relook their licensing issues before customers relook their software suppliers. And service providers can provide more, more securely and reliably for less. And then there is storage and network virtualisation.
Virtual everything
VMware is only the foundation to the virtualised world. Other companies are extending the capabilities of virtualisation with their own services. Some companies taking virtualisation to the next level are listed below.
BEA: BEA Systems is an enterprise infrastructure software company that focuses on building what it calls the Liquid Enterprise. The company has launched its new BEA LiquidVM architecture, which allows Java applications to run in virtual machines with no operating system. In other words, there is no base operating system that runs the hypervisor, only the Java virtual machine. To see the cost benefits of the LiquidVM approach, surf over to BEA’s virtualisation TCO calculator. www.bea.com.
LeftHand Networks: LeftHand Networks is an innovative player in the IP storage area network (SAN) market. It introduced its SAN/iQ-powered solutions in 2001 with the ideal that iSCSI SANs should be easy to grow and manage – like the plug-and-play idea above. The idea is everything in the SAN is broken into components which can be added as required. So CIOs can buy the storage and capacity they need and add to it as required. This saves them from buying excess capacity at a premium to cater for future growth. LeftHand Networks’ storage networks scale performance along with capacity, from entry-level 6 TB SATA SANs to enterprise-class 100 TB SAS SANs.
The company is looking at setting up partnerships in South Africa to launch the product here – www.lefthandnetworks.com/
Embotics: Embotics V-Commander tracks the lifecycle of virtual machines. It sits above existing management applications and prevents what the company refers to as 'virtual sprawl'. It automates the virtual machine lifecycle management process, allowing administrators to know exactly what they have, where, who is using it and what it does. V-Commander (which integrates with VMware's VirtualCenter management suite) is an 'unintrusive, centralised, policy-based VM lifecycle management system'.
The company is also currently looking at setting up partnerships in South Africa to launch the product here – www.embotics.com.
FalconStor Software: FalconStor offers its continuous data protector (CDP) virtual appliance that provides disk-based data protection to companies needing continuous availability for physical and virtual machines. It makes use of mirroring, snapshot, and database agents in its product. Furthermore, the company’s DiskSafe runs on an application server to capture block-level changes made to a system without affecting application performance. It mirrors data to the CDP Virtual Appliance in realtime and takes point-in-time snapshots, which can be used to roll back the system to a desired point in time – www.falconstor.com.
More information will be published in the May issue of Network Times.


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