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The term has been around for quite some time; however, only recently has the concept taken off. This can be attributed to better hardware and advancements in virtualization technology. As well, many companies have taken on a “Green” iniative and virtualization has proven very beneficial in this effort. Who developed virtualization? The history of virtualization can be traced back approximately 30 years ago. In an effort to leverage the most out of expensive mainframes, IBM found a way to create “virtual” machines within the mainframe that allowed it to multi-task. Since mainframes were expensive resources at the time, they were designed for partitioning as a way to fully leverage the investment. 1 These partitions allowed mainframes to run multiple applications and processes at the same time. As time passed and costs of x86 hardware became less expensive, the industry moved to a more distributed environment. This lead to issues like low infrastructure utilization, increased infrastructure costs, increased IT management costs, insufficient failover and disaster protection and high maintenance enduser desktops .1 Although virtualization was seen as a solution to these issues, the x86 hardware was not truly designed to support virtualization. Like mainframes, the x86 hardware was designed to work using a sequence instructions. Specifically, there are 17 specific instructions that create problems when virtualized, causing the operating system to display a warning, terminate the application, or simply crash altogether. As a result, these 17 instructions were a significant obstacle to the initial implementation of virtualization on x86 computers. VMware found a way to manage these “crashes” and trap them so they can then issue legitimate instructions.1 So what is virtualization? Virtualization is a term that refers to the abstraction of computer resources3. Virtualization can be broken down into several categories with more emerging every day: Server/Workstation Virtualization, Application Virtualization, Database Virtualization, Network Virtualization and Storage Virtualization just to name a few. Some may ask, “So, how does virtualization work.” Basically, virtualization is the ability to run multiple operating systems in containers known as virtual machines. An extra layer of software, called a hypervisor, is installed on the physical hardware that manages things like hardware resources. The hypervisor allows several virtual machines to run on a single host completely independent of one another.2 The host system maintains a pool of system resources which can be shared among the virtual machines sitting on top. With the exception of sharing of computing resources, each virtual server acts as its own entity; problems with an application on one server do not affect other virtual machines on that same physical server4. So what problem does virtualization solve? The answer depends on what problem plagues your environment. For many companies, having enough server hardware to service their IT environment is one of the real issues. When one considers the costs associated with servers, additional server purchases must be justified. This is where virtualization plays a key role in the data center. “By sharing the resources of a single server across multiple environments, virtualization essentially allows one server to
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GROUP 6 PROJECT – EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES SUBJECT: VIRTUALIZATION do the job of multiple devices.” 5 This allows companies the flexibility of deploying systems quickly and very inexpensively. As well, many companies have adopted a “Go Green” initiative where they are interested in saving the Earth’s natural resources among other things. When a company can virtualize its IT resources not only does it cut down on electricity used but also the amount of cooling required in maintaining the data center. Each of these help to conserve natural resources. As with any technology, there are pros and cons. What are the pros and cons of virtualization? Obviously, the pros can be the problems that virtualization helps to solve (computer hardware resources, power consumption, flexibility in deploying new systems, etc.) “Without a doubt, the greatest advantage of server virtualization is cost.”6 Some cons that many do not consider when jumping into the virtualization of their environment include: security, single point of failure and bleed over. Considering security, do you really want your confidential company financial information running on a virtual system that also hosts web servers and mail servers? It could be possible to use the other systems to compromise the host system which in turn allows compromise of your confidential company financial data system. Also consider the host system that is hosting multiple virtual systems for your business. When this system goes down, you have affected all the systems hosted on it. This can be quite problematic if your business applications that are responsible for your company’s profit are no longer available. This is the single point of failure. Bleed over occurs when the contents of one virtual server affect other virtual servers.6 An example of bleed over can be when another virtual system takes too much of the hosts system resources (RAM, network bandwidth, etc) and that in turn affects your virtual system running on that host. Where can virtualization technology be used? Ideally the hardware in the company data center comes to mind when thinking of virtualization; however this is not the only place the technology is being used. By virtualizing applications, networks, storage and databases, virtualization is spreading to other areas of the company. When it comes to virtualization, you may ask: What are the other competitive technologies? Cloud computing, existing legacy applications, automation of the datacenter and streaming technologies are just a few of the competitive technologies. Each will boast its benefit to the end user but ultimately the decision of which technology to use is based on the respective needs of the customer. What are the limitations of virtualization? One of the more obvious limitations of virtualization is the hardware limitation. For servers dedicated to applications with high demands on processing power, virtualization isn't a good choice. That's because virtualization essentially divides the server's processing power up among the virtual servers. When the server's processing power can't meet application demands, everything slows down7. Another limitation can be migrations. If the need arises to migrate a virtual system to a new host, this is not an uncomplicated process. So with all of this being said, what impact will virtualization have on real life? Businesses will find themselves changing their business processes to accommodate the new virtual infrastructure. With a smaller well-controlled virtual environment, many companies will be able to concentrate on the business of business.
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GROUP 6 PROJECT – EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES SUBJECT: VIRTUALIZATION What is one of the latest and greatest features of virtualization? Virtualization of applications. By removing the need for an application to be tied to a specific piece of hardware, it becomes portable. Take VMware’s ThinApp for example. Based on the Thinstall product acquired in January 2008, VMware’s ThinApp is an application virtualization/portable application creation suite that can package conventional applications so that they become portable. ThinApp is an effective application virtualization solution that is able to execute applications without them being installed in the traditional sense by visualizing resources such as environment variables, files and registry keys. This offers many benefits to IT directors to include7: • • • • • • • Streamline application migration and upgrades Reduce regression testing costs with independent sandboxes Reduce the cost of maintaining secure locked-down desktops Consolidate Terminal Server and MetaFrame servers Enhance work-force mobility with the ability to run applications offline directly on any external media including USB Flash, CD ROM and unattached laptops Upgrade operating systems without having to upgrade or replace legacy applications Protect PC’s against changes to file system and registry
Although application virtualization offers many great benefits, some applications cannot be virtualized. Take for example applications that require special device drives to run9. Alternatively, there may also special services that must be installed/run from the host system that prevent apps from performing properly in a “virtualized” world. Whatever the case, the potential for virtualization is huge! Since the full adoption of this technology is still ongoing, there are many things that will be discovered. As these discoveries are unfolded, expect changes in how virtualization works, the level of its adoption and its overall importance in maintaining a viable IT infrastructure.
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GROUP 6 PROJECT – EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES SUBJECT: VIRTUALIZATION
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VMWare: http://www.vmware.com/technology/history.html Vi-Pedia: http://www.vi-pedia.com/How_Does_Virtualization_Work Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtualization IT Management: http://www.itmanagement.com/faq/server-virtualization/ CDWG: http://webobjects.cdw.com/webobjects/media/PDF/RC/say-yes-virtualization.pdf Tech Republic: http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-5057662.html How Stuff Works: http://communication.howstuffworks.com/server-virtualization3.htm VMWare https://www.vmware.com/products/thinapp Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_virtualization
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