Virtualisation software, now in the third generation of its dynamic evolution, is gradually starting to establish itself as a feasible alternative to physical technology implementations that are often over-priced and underutilised.
While some are already quite familiar with virtualisation and its numerous benefits, a lot of users still squirm at the mere thought that "something" can become virtualised.
Put in layman's terms, virtualisation essentially means that you are breaking away from the physical, which in IT means, mitigating the need for extensive hardware implementations.
Essentially, virtualisation lets one computer do the job of multiple computers by sharing the resources of a single computer across multiple environments.
Additionally, virtual servers and virtual desktops allow for the hosting of multiple operating systems and multiple applications locally and in remote locations freeing it from physical and geographical limitations.
So, what does this mean practically and, more importantly, what are the tangible benefits? Andre Hurter, Symantec Availability Manager at Drive Control Corporation (DCC), explains that often data centres run multiple servers which not only take up a lot of space but also consume a considerable amount of energy. "We further find that these servers are often underutilised and as a result companies aren't getting the returns on their considerable investments."
Leading research group, Gartner echoes this sentiment stating in its white paper on Data Center Power and Cooling Scenario Options for the World Ahead, April 2007 that during a 24-hour period, less than 10% of the typical x86 /x64 server computing capacity is used.
This, if anything, illustrates that with virtualisation less work can be placed on physical servers thus optimising usage and minimising the amount of physical assets to manage and support it.
Again looking at more practically, x86 computer hardware was originally designed to run only an operating system and a single application but with virtualisation the hardware can now run multiple operating systems and multiple applications on the same computer at the same.
"By decoupling the physical hardware from the operating system and applications, virtualisation software enables companies to consolidate their data centres, reduce resultant energy and improve resource utilisation and ultimately manageability," explains Hurter.
"In the case of storage, today many companies have multiple storage pools distributed across IT environments which again lead to underutilised space and management complexity. With storage virtualisation, these multiple pools can be consolidated into one, reducing costs while at the same time optimising investment," he adds.
While virtualisation clearly offers a number of important benefits, there are also – as with most revolutionary technology – still a few hurdles to overcome.
For one, combining several systems into one physical system means that it only takes one system to loose all the information and one system to fall prey to a security onslaught.
Adds Hurter: "As virtualisation becomes more mainstream software vendors will also have to endeavour to make their offerings more compatible with virtual environments. This in turn will impact licensing; the one license per one device approach will have to evolve into a more dynamic system."
Another consideration is that virtualised environments need to be protected against data loss and other disasters. This can create a problem as the historical ways of protecting systems no longer apply to virtualised environments, resulting in data protection software vendors finding better ways of protecting these systems.
While the above are important considerations, the reality is that virtualisation is moving into the mainstream. "Microsoft's soon-to-be-launched 2008 Server will be virtualised while major players such as Intel, IBM and Sun Microsystems are already integrating their products with virtualised environments," concludes Hurter.