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Is server virtualization delivering for you yet?

Real world, real benefits?

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Reader Workshop In one of our recent Tech Panel surveys, conducted towards the end of 2008, we asked respondents to call out what they felt were the most positive trends in the IT industry during the previous 12 months.

In answer to this totally unprompted question, the word ‘Virtualization’ came up more than four times as often as any other significant word or phrase, including terms such as ‘Cloud Computing’, ‘Open Source’, ‘Mobility’, and even ‘Price Cuts’.

This positive view of virtualization was confirmed in a subsequent survey conducted just a couple of months ago in which 53 per cent of the Reg readers who responded said their organisation had embraced the approach, and a further 19 per cent said they were considering it.

While such sentiments are very encouraging, to what degree is virtualization — particularly based on popular technologies aimed at x86 server platforms — delivering on the promise?

Indications are that most large organisations and many smaller ones have now gathered experience in this area as part of their drive for operational efficiency. Server consolidation has been the big win here, with claims of an order of magnitude reduction in the number of servers being frequently heard. Such reductions in server hardware requirements, if they are true, can not only save money on kit, but in theory lead to space savings, reduced power consumption and lower operational overheads from a maintenance and management perspective.

But how real are these claims and benefits?

The chances are that if you are reading this, you will have some experience yourself in deploying one or more virtualization solutions, and to kick off this latest Reader workshop, we’d be interested to hear how it’s been for you.

In general, experiences thus far seem to have been positive, with virtualization delivering on the key benefit being advertised — namely, reducing hardware costs. There are a number of quite straightforward scenarios in which virtualization can be adopted, such as enabling the provision of development, integration and test environments, supporting the consolidation of less onerous workloads onto a reduced number of servers, giving organisations the ability to make use of unoccupied server resource such as warm standby machines and disaster recovery sites, or indeed a combination of all three.

But where are such benefits being realised specifically? With regard to consolidation, for example, what kind of ratios have you achieved — 3:1, 5:1, 10:1, higher? And how does this vary by workload? Have some jobs or applications given rise to better results than others? If so, why, and what advice would you give to someone figuring out where to start or focus their efforts to get the best returns?

It would also be useful to hear some of your views on the enabling technology itself. Some have expressed concerns, for example, about the expense and maturity of solutions, particularly as you scale up your deployments or start mixing and matching different operating systems. Have you encountered issues in these areas, either generically or with specific vendors or products? Do you have any tips or workarounds to avoid cost escalation or to overcome technology limitations? Are skills and experience the answer, and if so, how easy are they to come by?

We’ll be drilling into a lot of these areas over the coming few weeks as our workshop unfolds, but if you’d like to kick us off with some high level views of the practicality rather than the promise of server virtualization, join the debate by adding your comment below. ®

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