Virtualization Headed Toward Client Space

Dell's CTO sees an opportunity to drive virtualization beyond the data center

BOSTON—The paths for both Linux and virtualization, which have gained ground in the data center, are headed directly toward the client space, according to Dells top technology executive.

In his keynote here at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Wednesday morning, Dell Chief Technology Officer Kevin Kettler said that, up to this point, most of the development of virtualization technology has centered on the needs of server users.

"We at Dell think that is about to change," Kettler said. "What we see is an opportunity to really drive virtualization, and the capabilities of Linux as well, into the client."

Virtualization enables users to run multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical machine through the use of virtual machines. The same convergence of developments—from multicore processors to hardware-based virtualization from chip makers Advanced Micro Devices and Intel to declining implementation costs—that are fueling the drive of virtualization in the data center will do the same in the client space, Kettler said.

Virtualization will enable PC users to create multiple dedicated environments on a single machine that separate such aspects as Web browsing, gaming and media centers from one another, Kettler said. Keeping such environments isolated will protect them from one another—if one is infected by a virus, it can easily be removed without harming any of the other environments.

Virtualization also allows a user to run multiple operating systems—from Linux to Microsoft Windows—on a single machine, freeing the operating system from the hardware.

Kettler demonstrated a virtualized desktop environment on a Dell OptiPlex PC powered by a dual-core Intel Xeon processor and running Red Hat Linux. Included in the PC was the Xen 3.0 open-source virtualization hypervisor and the open-source Firefox Web browser. Through the environment, he was able to create multiple virtual machines that ran not only Linux but also Windows.

Widespread use of virtualization on the desktop is still several years away, but a lot of the work to make it happen is already under way, Kettler said. What is needed is for developers and users to embrace the idea of desktop virtualization and to create software for virtualized environments.

Kettler also urged the adoption of standards that will help lead to greater support and interoperability, and he said software vendors—just as theyve had to do with the onset of multicore processors—are going to have to revisit their licensing policies and business terms. Virtualization holds much promise for users, but they wont adopt it in a large way if the licensing costs run so high as to make it prohibitive.

Virtualization has been a key theme at LinuxWorld. A number of virtualization vendors—from VMware and XenSource to SWsoft and IBM—have announced products and plans designed to expand the use of virtualization in the open-source community.

Kettler said Dell sees virtualization—and virtualization on Linux—as a key driver of its scalable enterprise strategy, which calls for using multiple smaller servers—from one to four sockets—to create easily scalable and flexible IT infrastructures. Such environments can grow with greater granularity—if an administrator needs more server power, he or she can bring in relatively low-cost systems to meet that need—and enables users to keep up with the latest technology as their environments grow.

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"What was cutting edge 12 months ago is now old technology 12 months later," Kettler said.

Virtualization in such an environment "is a vision that is going to take several years to develop … but the dynamics in the industry are already changing," he said.

Along with multicore processors, there also is a push among industry leaders-including AMD and Intel-to create virtualized I/O capabilities, Kettler said. "Its not yet there today, but there is a lot of work being done there," he said.

He said Dell has been embracing Linux for years, pointing to Chairman Michael Dells statement in 2000 that the future of computing was Linux on Intel-based systems.

The Round Rock, Texas, company itself has been growing the use of the open-source operating system internally, in such areas as sales input and the Dell Web site, Kettler said.

Its also being used by Dell in the management of its supply chain. Outlining the operation, Kettler pointed out that Dell uses multiple PowerEdge servers running Red Hat Linux to manage a supply chain that encompasses seven manufacturing locations, 175 unique products, more than 500 suppliers and more than 100,000 built-to-order machines a day.

"Its a mission-critical area for us," he said.

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