A Virtual Future for App Automation

Data center boom sparks new tools.

Base-level virtualization—the partitioning of physical boxes into multiple virtual machines—is taking hold in the x86 world. 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 VMs.

In an interview during an IDC-sponsored conference on virtualization here Feb. 6, Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and Integrity server software for Hewlett-Packard, said 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 (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) systems for years.

For example, HP offers its VSE (Virtual Server Environment) for its Integrity and HP 9000 systems, an integrated virtualization that offers greater flexibility and automation for managing VMs.

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

Users at the IDC conference said virtualization has become a key technology in their data centers. Scott Hill, chief technology officer for investments company Oak Associates, in Akron, Ohio, said that almost 80 percent of his data center is now virtualized. Oak Associates had standardized on 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."

Such x86 environments, with so many smaller servers, can be more complex than running a single larger SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) server, which makes automating them a challenge, said van der Zweep.

As VMs 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. Turner estimated that 80 percent of data centers are using virtualization technology, and IDC expects that, by 2009, businesses will be spending upward of $15 billion on virtualization technology.

HP currently is testing some new 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 resources to meet those SLAs.

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 Palo Alto, Calif., company, which is owned by storage giant EMC. 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 VMs in ESX Server hosts.

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. 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 and put VMware virtual systems on top of those.

Intel on Feb. 6 announced that the Intel Virtualization Technology on its "Paxville" Xeon MP chip, which started shipping last fall, can now be activated. AMD will debut its virtualization technology in the middle of this year.