Virtualization Moves Beyond Servers

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2006-03-08

Virtualization Moves Beyond Servers

SAN FRANCISCO—As server virtualization becomes more mainstream in the x86 space, technology vendors are beginning to look at what other areas the principles of the technology can be applied.

At the Intel Developer Forum here, Intel unveiled plans to extend its Intel Virtualization Technology beyond the system level and into the interconnect.

The Santa Clara, Calif., companys move follows a similar one by rival Advanced Micro Devices, which in February at a virtualization conference hosted by analyst firm IDC announced the broad availability of the technology specifications for its upcoming I/O virtualization.

Also at the show, companies such as Altiris, Microsoft and VMware also shared plans for their respective virtualization offerings, ranging from virtualizing applications to greater management of virtualized environments.

Server virtualization is the idea of being able to run multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical system through the use of virtual machines, or pooling multiple machines into a single compute environment. The result is a more flexible environment that increases system utilization and reduces the need to add more physical systems when workloads are added.

It also addresses the growing concern of power consumption and heat generation in the data center by enabling administrators to add workloads without having to grow the number of physical servers.

Virtualization is gaining in popularity. IDC expects spending on virtualization technology to reach $15 billion by 2009, and VMware said 90 percent of its customers have moved virtualization from the test-and-development environments into production.

The interest also could be noted at IDF. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 people listened in on a panel discussion about virtualization.

Now Intel, AMD and others are looking to add such capabilities to other parts of the infrastructure.

Intel already has begun bringing its chip-level virtualization technology to some of its processors and will expand it throughout much of the product line—including the upcoming next-generation Itanium 2 processor, dubbed "Montecito"—this year. At his keynote here March 7, Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intels Digital Enterprise Group, said next year the company will expand the reach of the technology to include interconnects.

Gelsinger introduced Intel Virtual Technology for Directed I/O—or VT-d—which will enable users to partition and assign I/O devices to virtual machines. Gelsinger announced the immediate availability of the specifications for the technology, and both VMware and Microsoft said they will support it in future versions of their respective virtualization products.

AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will bring virtualization capabilities—called AMD Virtualization Technology—to its processor lineup in the middle of this year. The company said in February that it expects its I/O virtualization technology to be supported by its chips this year.

Next Page: Bringing virtualization to the hardware level.


On-chip virtualization is designed to bring much of the work of software hypervisors used by such virtualization vendors as VMware and Microsoft to the hardware level, increasing the reliability and performance of virtualized environments.

VMware President Diane Greene, who took the stage with Gelsinger, said in an interview later that bringing virtualization to the hardware level is a key element for driving the development of the technology.

"When you can treat a machine like a file, there is so much you can do with it," Greene said.

For its part, VMware, owned by storage giant EMC and based in Palo Alto, Calif., is looking to expand the capabilities of its VMotion technology by enhancing its automated capabilities.

VMotion enables users to move workloads between virtual machines without having to take down the systems. In the next upgrade later this year, VMotion will offer greater automation of this capability, Greene said. Currently there is some script work involved when moving workloads between virtual machines, she said. With the upgrade, that work will be automated.

In addition, the enhanced software will offer automated failover through cluster management capabilities, she said.

Click here to read more about automated capabilities in the x86 space.

Desktop management software vendor Altiris also is preparing to move into the virtualization space, focusing more on virtualizing applications. Jeff Adcock, director of strategic alliances for the Linden, Utah, company, said early implementations of its Software Virtualization Solution already are underway and the offering will be rolled out later in the first half of this year.

Altiris solution will help streamline software testing and development, eliminating conflicts when updates and patches are needed. Altiris will offer a free "personal use" version of the software to enable potential users to try it before deciding to buy.

It also will support Intels VT offering, Adcock said.

The combination of Intels virtualization technology and Altiris software will give administrators greater control over the security and management of the PC while still allowing users the flexibility they want in their systems. The tension between the desire for greater security and greater freedom is exacerbated by the growing movement toward mobile computing, Adcock said.

Using the Altiris technology, administrators will be able to bring the security capabilities currently done on the network into the system, protecting the network even when the PC is not in use, he said. The software, in a protected virtualized environment, will be able to continuously scan for dangers to the network and keep the computer off the network until it is safe to bring it back on.

"VT enables that functionality," Adcock said.

During the virtualization panel discussion, Mike Neil, product unit manager for Windows virtualization for Microsoft, said the next version of its Virtual Server software—dubbed Virtual Server R2 SP1—will include support for Intels VT as well as greater cluster capabilities, which will help with planned and unplanned downtime.

It also will offer greater support for Linux operating systems, something that users who wanted greater choice were demanding, Neil said.

"Linux will really be a first-class citizen" in the next version of Windows Virtual Server, he said.

Windows VS R2 SP 1 will go into beta in the second quarter, he said.

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