HP Attempts to Flatten the Bumps on the Road to Virtualization

Q&A: HP's czar of virtualization agrees that the complexities of managing a burgeoning number of virtual machines can offset savings on resource utilization.

Virtualization is all the rage. Youve heard the estimates: Between 70 percent to 90 percent of data center resources are underutilized.

Given the waste, the buzz around virtualization makes sense. It helps by pooling and sharing resources, allowing users to automatically grow and shrink resources based on application requirements.

Its no panacea, though. Attendees at Gartner Inc.s recent Symposium/ITXpo griped about virtualizations introduction of an untenable mountain of virtualized servers that make for management headaches. Plus, theres the issue of software licensing complexities, with the industry by and large still stuck in a per-CPU, per-user mindset, not yet adjusted to the more fluid dynamic presented by virtualized resources.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has long been a big backer of developing and bringing virtualization to its customers. More importantly, it also has approaches to working with the management and licensing headaches of virtualization.

Database Editor Lisa Vaas recently talked with HPs Nick van der Zweep, director of Virtualization and Integrity Server Software, to get the dope on how HP is trying to soothe the pain points of this up-and-coming technology. Van der Zweeps work includes developing HPs first-in-class HP Utility Data Center and HP Virtual Server Environment offerings. He also spearheads all virtualization efforts on behalf of HP Technology Solutions Group and is responsible for software marketing for HP Business Critical Servers, including HP-UX 11i, OpenVMS, High Availability software and the HP Virtual Server Environment.

Were hearing that a dangerous new problem is virtual machine sprawl—uncontrolled flexibility that is worse than useless.

Once you get into virtualization, the [technology] does things like take one server and run multiple applications on it at [the same] time. Its done through partitioning, on high-end systems, with virtual machines. With ProLiant [its done in] partnership with VMWare and Xen and Microsoft. But like [Gartner Symposium IT/Xpo keynoter Tom Bittman] said, you may have 10 servers but it looks like 100 because you have different operating systems running at the same time. If you say, No, I dont want to do it the old way, I want the new way, youll have 10 physical servers but 100 virtual servers.

The good thing is if server No. 10 or No. 95 is running at 100 percent, well, tough luck. You need less hardware because of virtualization, but now youve got to handle the complexity of 100 virtual machines sitting on top of 10 physical machines, and how do you handle that in management systems so they understand it? Or does it make you do something goofy, like create 200 virtual machines?

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read showgoer input on virtual machine sprawl from Gartners recent Symposium/ITXpo.

[HP has] software out there like System Insight Manager, which is really important to our whole strategy. [It allows users to] understand both the physical and virtual machines, and it covers a heterogeneous [mix].

Virtualization is great, but just watch out for the management complexity. Thats why weve been focusing on making the management simpler and preventing this great asset, to be able to reduce costs, add agility and prevent that from becoming a management nightmare.

Whats next on the agenda when it comes to the virtualization and utility computing portfolio?

Well always add more technology down at the low end to make it more powerful and simpler. We just added the capability to go to partitions that are 1/20th the size of a CPU. You can have many, many more virtual machines on a [server]. And were still adding virtualization to our storage.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about HPs recent move to shrink its storage virtualization offerings to help midtier businesses squeeze better ROI and performance from storage environments.

But were really, really focused on the management area.

Virtualized storage is something that people are waiting for, before taking the leap to virtualization. Whats HP doing in that area?

Well focus on moving up, continuing to focus on more management software around virtualization and more automation software around virtual resources to automatically move CPUs around. We want to expand that [to allow users to] automatically allocate and de-allocate storage and storage cache. We already announced automation to automatically add [resources such as] a blade [server] on demand, so an application is running hot but you can get not just another CPU but another blade.

We do a lot of, when you start talking about vision for utility computing, youre going to a mode where more and more infrastructure is flexible and it automatically moves to the right application. Companies are doing that on an application-by-application basis, but eventually the entire data center will be virtualized.

We have sets of customers that have done that already. In most cases weve implemented these capabilities in multiple HP data centers around the world. We do a fairly large outsourcing business and extend our capabilities, not just technologies but our people who know how to run this and manage this.

Youre talking now about customers such as DreamWorks, right?

Companies like DreamWorks have taken advantage of this.

What they do is when they make a film like "Madagascar," they have a lot of compute power to render all the frames. What they did was they said, Its not their core value proposition to be an IT company and sit there and run all those IT systems. They only need that power intermittently.

What they do is use a utility-rendering system HP has.

DreamWorks is able to use that service and submit their frames to us. We render them and ship them back fully rendered and digitized. They pay on a per-frame basis.

And we have SLAs as to what turnaround time we promise them and what we get paid.

Next Page: Licensing complexities.