Checking out Virtual Machines
Many organisations have undertaken significant work over the last eighteen months as part of server consolidation projects, writes Tony Lock of Bloor Research. All scales of systems have been the subject of such projects with Intel-based machines accounting for no small percentage of consolidation efforts.
The raw horsepower of top-end Intel processors can now provide significant computing capabilities to rival those of traditional RISC based platforms. Indeed, so great can this processing power reach that the applications that are to be hosted on such servers may not be capable of utilising all of the available capacity. This is where virtual machine software is becoming ever more important.
The fact that many of the leading suppliers of medium to high end Intel servers such as IBM, HP and Dell all have close relationships with virtual machine software providers such as VMware is another indication of the importance of this technology. With tools such as the VMware GSX Server and ESX Server software it is possible to logically subdivide a single server platform into any number of “logical” servers, each of which can be scaled with the desired physical assets in terms of processor power, I/O and memory etc.
However, virtual machine software also has many alternative roles to play, including the areas of rapid server provisioning and enhancing high availability. These functionalities will become very valuable as organisations look to minimise the costs associated with the management and administration of servers whilst seeking to improve the quality of IT service delivered to users.
In terms of high availability, by using the GSX technology critical applications may operate in up to 64 secure, isolated virtual machines on a single hardware platform whilst making full use of standard load balancing, replication and clustering tools. It also possible to build clusters of virtual machines. In particular the ability of the GSX Server software to move “stateful” applications between virtual machines without any interruption to service is likely to attract serious attention. In this manner it will become possible to start a move an application, without taking down the system, to a second virtual machine.
Virtual Machine technology has long been accepted and exploited in Mainframe and high-end Unix systems. It is now time for all IT administrators to investigate the potential for the use of such systems within their own operations. Both Wintel and Lintel systems can utilise effectively such software to raise service quality whilst minimising operational costs.