Virtualization… What’s the Big Deal?

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Virtualization—it’s been around for years, so why is it suddenly so hot? Big changes are underway that will make it mainstream in servers and even client systems. What has changed?

First, the industry has started a transition from single- to multi-core processors… and on the horizon are similar trends in I/O. These trends will continue. So what do we do with all these extra processing units? Virtualization is a natural fit for all of these processing elements. One option is to partition a multi-core system—and dedicate a processor core to a specific “guest” OS.

Second, native support at the processor level will be standard… both Intel and AMD will have native support for virtualization. This will accelerate adoption, drive common instruction sets, and improve memory management.

Perhaps the biggest change will be in the lower cost of implementing a virtualized system. Virtualization software is more and more common—some is even free open-source. Moving forward, this means two things: lower cost of implementation, and more software options for customers… both of which are good for virtualization.

Virtualization will not be a passing fad. What will be interesting in the coming years is to watch how software licensing will need to change and how virtualization will lead to new ways to package and distribute software. With virtualization, a software developer can do some pretty creative applications in the contained virtual environment.

This is all pretty exciting stuff and it’s got us brainstorming new ways that virtualization can solve problems and advance the industry in both the client and the server. I’d like to hear where you think this is going. Expect to hear more from me on virtualization soon.

Update: Direct2Dell reader Fred asked for this video in a Linux-friendly format… you can download the Ogg Theora file here.

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16 thoughts on “Virtualization… What’s the Big Deal?

  1. I understand that servers should be utilized more efficiently, at like 60% rather than 15%, and virtualization solves this problem, but what I don’t understand is what happens if you have 2 or 3 virtual servers on one piece of hardware, and you have a hardware failure. Then, instead of one server being down, you have 2 or 3, which would severly raise the downtime costs. Are servers configured for virtualization fully redundant, such as motherboard, hard drives, SCSI and RAID controllers, power supplies, and all the little componants that could fail and not have a backup?

    And even if all of these things were redundant, with 2 or more of them, would that not raise the cost of the server to more than what you would pay for just 2 in the first place?

    I personally wouldn’t trust virtualization unless I could be assured that no matter what failed, there would be redundancy to give enough time to repair the problem.

  2. I would like to know the answer to Jeff’s questions as well.

    I understand virtualization, and have a virtual machine running next to me right now.  Another potential problem that I see is that the virutualization software has to be install on one OS.  What happens if the main OS/host has a software problem?  From what I have seen through testing using VMWare Server, all the virtual servers on the same machine will go down.  Any thoughts??

  3. High-end virtualization products like VMWare ESX support functions like VMotion ( which will move running VMs to a different physical server if one goes down.  VMotion.  Other virtualization products like Virtuozzo also support moving the VM to different hardware if necessary (  

    How the servers are configured depends on your needs and budget.  VMotion only works if the VM file is stored on a SAN.  I wouldn’t run mission-critical applications on VMWare Server since that relies on the stability of the underlying host OS, so I have to pay for ESX.  ESX server runs on a cut down Linux-type OS configured specifically for that purpose, and so is much less likely to crash than a generic Windows or Linux install.

    Virtualization is not suitable for every application – those with high IO requirements don’t do particularly well now.  But you can move that fax server, backup domain controller, intranet web server, print server, and  all those physical systems that support 5 users with an application that doesn’t play well with others into VMs on a single physical box (or two) and save the rack space, electrical, cooling, etc.  You can share peripherals between them, so now you don’t need rack space for more tape drives.

    Even stepping outside the server realm, you can configure a VM with a preconfigured setup for a training program.  Rather than reimaging the PCs in your training room, you can stick VMWare Player on them and have them open the training app there.

  4. Great presentation Mr. Kettler. I’d love to see more of this type of informational of-interest-to-Dell-and-customer type post, without the blantant sales pitch.

    Also, the majority of focus on virtualization right now has been two fold..

    1) The benefits to businesses in running multiple dedicated server/services/environments in one box through virtualization

    1) The benefits to end customers to "segment" their OS environments, so Mom and Dad can seperate home from work interests, and the kids Jane and Jeff can each have their own private system on the same hardware, to do what kids to.. *all at the same time*. So Jane can leave her IM applications running to catch messages 24/7 and Jeff can host a game server in his enviornment, for his friends to hang out on and play while he’s over their house.. (not to mention they can independantly leave their favorite downloading/legal filesharing applications running).

    What I’d like to see more of, is the focus on the following:

    How virtualization in hardware will (eventually) benefit home users (and businesses!) through independantly segmented antivirus and IDS (more advanced firewall/trojan protection) as applications are developed to take advantage of this technology.

    Also, more about how home users will be able to run independant microOS’s of various types (the VMM’s you mentioned) with dedicated applications.. relieving the need to have more than 1 costly OS licence on a single machine.

    The benefits of the multiple cores will result in being able to run multiple dedicated virtual machines/sandboxed services without a noticeable performance hit on the primary OS. As the end user browses the web, plays a game, or performs other tasks on one core, the other core handles those "other" dedicated solutions that would normally have slowed the system down. (Like antivirus does now on systems with single core processors)

    I don’t think this message is being communicated well to the general public, and should be, Even though it’s a complicated technology to delve into explaining, there are easier methods to make the points that matter to the home user. Most of these points, also apply to the business user, but require different language to communicate it.

    I’m looking forward to the future of applications/services/microenvironments..etc that take advantage of multicore processors and virtualization technology. So, thanks again for the presentation, and keep them coming.


  5. Hi.

    I’d just like to stop the incorrect impression that VMware ESX server is based on linux.

    The VMkernel (which is the small optimized OS or Hypervisor) is entirely properitary,

    othervise it would be a violation of the Linux GPL license.

    VMware actually license Red Hat Enterprise Linux

    and run it as a virtual machine for the management of the VMkernel,

    which has no user interface.

    This is the reason people conclude ESX is based on linux while it’s not,

    as they see a linux command line when the log on to manage their esx server.

  6. I’m looking for a head-to-head comparison of VMWare and Xen… what, exactly, is the difference between them, what capabilities does each have that the other does not, when and why I would want to use one vs. the other, etc.

  7. How do you feel about virtualization and Dell’s position in light of the fact that Dell cannot even provide decent customer and hardware support at the most basic level without messing it up?

  8. I second the vote for making the video available in an open, universal format instead of a dumb ole windows format. It’s trivially easy to do so and it will reach more site visitors. Unless you think only windows users matter.

  9. Fred: Thanks for the feedback… a couple of weeks ago, we transitioned to a new video player that uses Flash as the desfault… but, more importantly to you, the new player allows you to download each of the vlogs in Ogg Theora. You can access the Ogg Theora file of this clip here.

  10. Last year we had 7 servers, now with Virtualization i can run my complete enviroment in only two pshysical servers with no problem. Thanks Virtualization.

  11. Haha. What’s all this ‘new’ talk about running Virtual Servers? We’ve had that in operation for years now: Windows Server for Small Business. 😉



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