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Brush up your virtualisation skills

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Virtualisation has expanded its remit since back in the 1960s, when only the white-coated acolytes tending the IBM mainframe in an air-conditioned hall needed to know anything about it.

Today, it is everywhere, and it would be a blinkered IT staffer who failed to recognise the importance of the technology to his or her role.

Prepare for battle

The reason for the growth of virtualisation is that it can save huge amounts of money, both directly through reduced hardware maintenance and energy costs, and indirectly because it is a key enabler for cloud computing.

And virtualisation is no longer confined to the server room or data centre. The technology is being sold and supported by both Microsoft and VMware, among others, making it a mainstream option.

So a working knowledge of what virtualisation does and how it works is crucial.

You probably know about server virtualisation, but the key battleground today is the desktop. While it may take some time to become the default option, Microsoft is working hard to persuade enterprise IT departments that virtualisation should underpin their new desktops.

Through thick and thin

For example, test and development can be carried out in sandboxes, speeding up the deployment of new applications. Once an application has been tested in a virtualised environment, it can be rolled out onto any PC that is equipped with a sandbox, such as Microsoft's App-V.

That is also true of applications that need to be deployed to end-users, of course. Virtualisation underpins application streaming to thin and fat clients, and then provides central control and licensing information.

In the data centre, network and storage virtualisation technologies help to hide the underlying hardware from the requesting machine, which provides greater flexibility.

For example, thin provisioning of storage means you buy storage as and when you need it, not in one large lump upfront, so saving both capital and operational expenditure.

The technology that enables thin provisioning hides the real storage volumes behind a virtualisation layer, and allows it to behave as if, for example, 50TB is attached when in fact only 25TB is available.

Similarly, virtualisation allows network fabrics to be separated into different virtual entities, even though they may all be on the same physical network. This disguises the network's complexity, making central management easier.

Companies are snapping up specialists in the field

So virtualisation brings benefits not only to server or desktop managers, but to applications managers too.

Companies are realising the advantages of virtualisation and snapping up specialists in the field. According to one IT job site in the US, during the recession the number of ads for most jobs fell, apart from those calling for virtualisation skills. Today there are about 2,000 jobs in that category on the one site alone.

Gis a job

On one site in the UK, jobs requiring virtualisation skills are advertised in a number of technology categories, including SQL and other programming languages, networking, telecoms and storage, as well servers and desktops.

There were well over 300 matches to a search for jobs with virtualisation in the title, and many more for those calling for virtualisation skills.

So every IT staffer needs to know about virtualisation. Whether or not your job title specifically incorporates the V-word, the technology underpins so many other processes and technologies that it is required reading for all. ®

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