Virtualization Vertigo: Options Abound

Surging technology delivers choices aplenty, as well as the risk of confusion.

Virtualization isnt just VMware anymore. Until recently, virtualization was seen as what VMware does: Use whats called a software hypervisor layer to slice a single x86 physical server into multiple virtual ones, similar to what OEMs such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard were doing for years through hardware partitions.

Now, as the benefits of virtualization—from greater data center flexibility to lower hardware, power and cooling costs—become more apparent, vendors are jumping in. Not only are more people getting into the hypervisor business—Microsoft and the open-source Xen project being the most prominent—but tech companies also are applying the concepts of virtualization to other areas, such as I/O. They also are rolling out products designed to help manage virtual environments.

The result is a rapidly growing number of virtualization options and capabilities for users, according to industry observers. There also is the risk of some confusion, as the word "virtualization" is being applied to a wider number of products.

"I see more people with a variety of different types of technology that take on the word virtualization because its kind of the hot word out there, but theyre not really doing what VMware is doing," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, in Nashua, N.H.

Philippe Levy, marketing director for Neterion, a 10G-bit Ethernet adapter maker from Cupertino, Calif., said virtualization will have to grow beyond servers to create the flexible and dynamic data center that many envision.

"There is a lot of confusion," said Levy, whose company this week is launching a product designed to virtualize the I/O layer. "Virtualization is a buzzword. But thats why we insist on calling [Neterions new Hyperframe product] I/O virtualization. But it is a building block for the overall [data center] virtualization."

However, if there is confusion among users, it seems to be offset by the promise of more choices.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about whats in store for virtualization.

"I would say a little of both [choice and confusion]," said Jevin Jensen, senior director of IS technical services for Mohawk Industries, in Calhoun, Ga., and a VMware user.

"Now we have lots of options if you want to run Linux-only VMs [virtual machines], which is confusing, but soon [we will have] more choices for running Windows VMs, which will be helpful to us."

Jensen said hes also seen two demonstrations of virtualization cluster technology and is attracted by what he said seems to be easier implementation and lower costs over traditional cluster software.

Neterion, which is unveiling Hyperframe at the Server Blade Summit, April 18-20 in Garden Grove, Calif., is one of several vendors bringing virtualization into their fields of expertise.

Hyperframe allows server and storage devices to view a single interconnect adapter as multiple adapters, Levy said. The product also lets users replace multiple 1G-bit Ethernet adapters with a single 10G-bit adapter and dynamically allocate bandwidth across components rather than have a fixed amount per component.

In addition, every operating system is given its own I/O path, Levy said.

Chip makers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel are looking to put such capabilities into their processors, and the PCI-SIG standards organization, of which both Neterion and HP are members, has a working group dedicated to the technology.

Vendors also are looking at ways of using virtualization in clustered environments, where the technology is used to take multiple servers and create a single-server environment. Marathon Technologies, a Littleton, Mass., company that offers software to provide high availability for Microsoft applications, is rolling out EverRun HA, which enables users to tie together two x86 servers.

That then creates a virtualized Windows server environment where the applications are deployed. The result is a highly available, multiple-server scenario with no single point of failure, but one in which it is presented as a single server, with one identity and IP address.

Applications can run in such a clustered environment without modification and on standard platforms and are not prone to the problems of cluster failovers, such as lost data, said Marathon President and CEO Gary Phillips. The company expects to add Linux support next year.

Cassatt is looking to make virtual environments more manageable. The San Jose, Calif., company is launching its Collage Cross-Virtualization Manager, or XVM, software, which offers automated management of both physical and virtual systems.

XVMs vendor-neutral architecture enables users to automate the management of virtual machines from multiple sources, including VMware, Microsoft and Xen, as well as the physical machines they run on, from a single point.

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