Virtualizations Next Frontier: Better Software Management

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2006-02-22

Virtualizations Next Frontier: Better Software Management

NEW YORK—Base-level virtualization—the dividing up of physical boxes into multiple virtual machines—is taking hold in the x86 world, according to vendors and analysts at a conference on the technology here on Feb. 6. The next step is going to be bulking up the software options that enable such capabilities as policy-based, automated provisioning and deploying of those virtual machines.

In an interview during the IDC-sponsored conference, Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and Integrity server software for Hewlett-Packard, noted that such automated capabilities are commonplace in the high-end server arena, where partitioning and similar virtualization technologies have been present in RISC and EPIC systems for years.

For example, HP offers its Virtual Server Environment for its Integrity and HP 9000 systems, an integrated virtualization that offers greater flexibility and automation in the managing of virtual machines. About 60 percent of the high-end systems—running its PA-RISC chips and Intels Itanium processors—ship with partitioning features, and the number of those that also ship with VSE is growing, van der Zweep said.

"Weve had VSE in place for three years, but now weve seen it ramp," he said.

Now those same capabilities need to be brought into the x86 space, which is more complex in many ways than the high end, thanks to such aspects as the larger number of systems, van der Zweep and others said.

As virtual machines become more commonplace in the data center, the need to manage them automatically based on policies and SLAs (service-level agreements) will grow as well, said IDC analyst Vernon Turner.

And virtualization is growing. At another conference last week, Turner estimated that 80 percent of data centers are using virtualization technology. IDC, of Framingham, Mass., expects that by 2009, businesses will be spending upwards of $15 billion on virtualization technology.

In addition, server sales will continue to grow—some 14 percent or so by 2009—and the bulk of those will be smaller servers that sell for less than $3,000. That will increase the problems of data center real estate, server utilization, and cooling and power costs, all things that virtualization can address. With virtualization, more work can be done without having to buy more physical hardware and utilization will jump from 15 to 20 percent now to 40 percent or more. In addition, not adding more physical boxes will mean no additional power consumption or heat generation.

Van der Zweep said virtualization use among HPs x86 users is still in the 5 to 6 percent range, but he said that will grow, as will the demand for better management software. HP is incorporating capabilities gained through several acquisitions last year—such as the purchase of RLX Technologies for the blade server pioneers Control Tower management suite—that will find their way into new virtualization management software, he said.

HP currently is testing some of this software with customers, and businesses could see the capabilities in products later this year, van der Zweep said. The goal is to enable users to plug in SLAs for their applications and have the software automatically provision the data center resources to meet those SLAs.

"Its the next thing," he said. "HP is bringing a bunch of that to the table."

VMware, the biggest x86 virtualization software vendor, also is moving in that direction, said Raghu Raghuram, vice president of data center and desktop platform products for the company, which is owned by storage giant EMC.

Click here to read about VMwares free enterprise-level virtualization tool.

Raghuram pointed to the upcoming release of ESX Server 3 and VirtualCenter 2 in the second quarter, which will offer such capabilities as automated monitoring and workload balancing among virtual machines in ESX Server hosts. Initially the upgraded software was due to hit the market this quarter.

Such capabilities will mean that the software, rather than IT administrators, will find the appropriate amount of compute resources needed to meet those SLAs among a pool of physical servers, and plug a virtual machine in there. The software will then ensure that those SLAs are maintained, adding compute resources as needed.

Next Page: Virtualization becomes key in the data center.


Users at the conference said virtualization has become a key technology in their data centers. Scott Hill, chief technology officer for Akron, Ohio-based investments firm Oak Associates, said in an interview that he first investigated virtualization in 2003, and that that almost 80 percent of his data center is now virtualized. He is running an average of six VMware virtual machines on each physical two-way Dell server. About half of those virtual servers are running in a production environment.

The key benefits have been lower power and cooling costs, easier management, server consolidation and server utilization.

Oak Associates had standardized on the two-way Dell systems, and "for some things, it was just right. But for other things, it was overkill," Hill said. "[The application] just didnt need that much server."

In addition, he said if a developer requests a server for testing and development purposes, it now takes about an hour to prepare a virtual machine, compared with the two to four weeks it can take to order and configure a physical server.

He also is using virtualization technology in other parts of his data center, including using an EMC Clariion storage area network.

Dan Raczkowski, IT consultant for News America, a division of News Corp., told conference attendees that utilization of servers was in the 5 to 10 percent range just over a year ago. Single applications such as Microsoft SQL Server database were running on a single system, which he called "an unbelievable waste of space. One of the things about having a data center in New York is price. Its incredibly expensive."

Consolidating workloads on virtual machines means fewer physical boxes. In addition, when the company was looking to consolidate its J.D. Edwards applications, News Corp. was advised by third parties to buy 18 two-way servers for 80 users.

Instead, the company bought four four-way Sun Fire BV40z systems from Sun Microsystems running Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips, and put VMware virtual systems on top of those. News Corp. now has as many as 16 virtual machines running on a single physical server.

The efficiencies will increase as chip makers Intel and AMD bring hardware-level virtualization to their processors, the users said. Intel on Feb. 6 announced that the Intel Virtualization Technology on its "Paxville" Xeon MP chip, which started shipping in the fall, can now be activated. Intel plans to outfit all of its server and client chips with the technology.

AMD will debut its virtualization technology in the middle of this year. On Feb. 6, the company announced the availability of its I/O virtualization technology specification. The spec will enable chip set and software vendors to virtualize I/O devices that can be easily mapped to virtual machines, said Margaret Lewis, director of commercial solutions for AMD.

Editors Note: This story was updated to correct Raghu Raghurams title.

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