Going Virtual to Improve Server Efficiency
Graham Jarvis explores server virtualisation - one of the most
promising areas of growth in the IT industry.
What is virtualisation?
virtualisation is essentially about improving server resource
allocation and management, making it more efficient by reducing the
number of servers needed and making sure their optimal processing power
is fully utilised. The term describes the ability to host complete
operating system 'images' (including or excluding a kernel on a
single hardware platform – typically creating a Virtual Private Server
(VPS) or a Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS).
online glossary of terms explains: "The way that the operating
system (OS) interacts with the hardware platform is modified so that
multiple OS instances can share the underlying hardware platform.
Server virtualization is often used to consolidate multiple smaller (or
older) servers onto a single, large server, without changing how the
applications or OS is managed."
Server virtualisation is typically
used for the following (in order of perceived importance):
1. Server consolidation (reducing the number of servers required to manage the IT infrastructure);
2. Disaster recovery (DR - back-ups and business continuity solutions
to maximise server uptime);
3. Test and development (for testing software applications and so
4. Mission critical activities;
5. Utility computing;
6. Complete IT overhauls.
So is server virtualisation new?
Microsystems' Laurence James, Data Centre Efficiency Marketing Manager,
says that the hypervisor has been around for "Donkey's years". Contrary
to most people's impressions it has been around since the 1960s when it
was first developed, and IBM came out with the first one in the 1970s.
VMWare - which is typically thought of as being the original force
behind the beginnings of server virtualisation - took the concept a
step further to become the market leader.
To begin with the firm layered it onto an Intel X86 platform, but the
process platforms' instruction sets"didn't lend themselves to
virtualisation until specific processors were introduced to ensure the
maintenance of integrity", he says. VMWare was essentially the company
to develop the market, to get us talking about virtualisation today in
all of its various flavours (e.g. desktop, storage, and operating
system). As the first key entrant into the market Going Virtual to
Improve Server Efficiency it managed to do what others hadn't
quite achieved by solving these initial issues.
Eventually new players like Citrix, Virtual Iron and others joined
them. In fact the market is continuing to grow and Fredrik Sjostedt,
VMWare's Director of EMEA Product Marketing, says that it is now worth
$1bn in Europe. The firm's server virtualisation solutions are used by
about 90% of the FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 100 companies. It very much
dominates the market, and it is expected to maintain its market
position in spite of increased competition from the likes of Microsoft.
We'll take a closer look at the market later on in this article.
virtualisation has probably never been more relevant with a history
that goes back to the days of the IBM mainframes", says Neil Sanderson,
Microsoft, UK Product Manager for Virtualisation and Management
Technology who adds that it is " Currently hitting mass adoption when
organisations are more challenged than they have ever been."
kind of companies use it? All kinds of organisations can deploy server
virtualisation today; either managing it in-house or through
outsourcing it to an external data centre, and it is now available to
even SMEs and large enterprises. There are an array of options, and
some may be more applicable to large companies and others to the
smaller ones. For example, small or medium-sized
companies are often unable to afford to buy the necessary in- house
skills and know-how to manage virtualised IT infrastructures.
in this case it would make sense to hire an expert; a company that
offers secure data centre services. They can then gain some peace of
mind, knowing that their IT will be constantly managed, monitored and
maintained by professionals with all of the required competencies,
knowledge and experience required to keep them in business. In turn
they are able to focus on their own core commercial competencies. But
how do they gain access to their own software applications? One option
would be to use the software-as-a-server (SaaS) model, whereby a
connection is created to the data centre using a virtual private
contrast larger medium-sized and enterprise class organisations may
elect to use a hybrid model. What does that mean? It means that they
might want to have some aspects of their IT, like server
virtualisation, managed by and outsourced to a data centre while
keeping a certain amount of it in-house. These are challenging times,
particularly as many projects are being put on hold, and IT managers
have to increasingly justify their IT expenditure.
Why invest in server virtualisation?
Sjostedt explains: "We have found that 70% of an organisation's IT
budget is used to maintain your current operation. So you will have
less for new initiatives, but if you can improve the amount of budget
available, say through server virtualisation, you have more new
initiatives. So that's key area for IT managers to contend with,
especially when you are operating in a challenging market."
"Organisations have been buying an increasing number of servers within
the data centre and there has been a significant increase in the amount
of computing power within each one, but only about 15-20% of capacity
is traditionally utilised", says Sjostedt. It also costs money to run
large data centres, but this can be rationalised with server
virtualisation. What do I mean? Well server consolidation is one of the
key drivers for investing in this technology. As an organisation you
can reduce the number of machines you run to manage your IT
infrastructure. You might have 15 physical servers for example, but by
virtualising them you'll only need one. So organisations can save
money; the virtualised servers can make the whole thing more efficient
while optimising computing capacity per machine. Virtual machines can
be deployed rapidly too.
increased fuel and energy costs having an impact on most organisations
today, and concerns about the environment, you can economise further
too. How? By having fewer servers within the data centre, for example,
you will use less power to keep them running and that in turn is as
good for the environment as it is for your companies purse and image.
"The cost of managing the IT infrastructure is being pushed into the
data centre", comments Laurence James. Therefore many companies are on
what he calls the 'data centre consolidation trail', aiming to increase
cost-efficiencies by doing more with less hardware.
Reducing computing hardware
Microsystems has been practising what it preaches, and passes this on
to its customers. The company has gone down the server consolidation
route, reducing 3,000 square feet of computing hardware down to just
five racks. That's a massive 80% reduction! In terms of power usage
this means they are using 50% less power to keep the data centre
running than there were previously. The company is part of the Green
Grid Consortium, which has developed Power Effectiveness Figure to
establish a benchmark. The industry standard is apparently 2.5:1
servers, but Sun has managed to reduce its power usage to just 1.8:1
servers. On each server you can have 250 operating system 'images' on
one server. All of this is great but James stresses that the successful
implementation of server virtualisation requires cultural change. If
you're considering it your IT team might also need to adopt new skills.
are often virtualising at a point where a 'server refresh' comes up,
and server virtualisation's cost effectiveness and the clear return on
investment (ROI) derived from it provide them with the perfect excuse
to get rid of any old hardware. The savings come in the form of reduce
operational and capital expenditure benefits. VMWare believes you can
gain back your initial investment within a six to nine month period.
Thelifetime operating costs are much less than when related to the
ongoing operation of traditional hardware, while also giving
organisations the ability to become more and more agile and maintaining
high levels of server uptime. The second most important driver is
disaster recovery. Businesses are increasingly reliant on IT to run
their organisations, and without access to their data they might not be
able to operate. Effectively data and processes must be protected to
ensure business continuity. It is important to have processes in place,
no matter how your staff are working - whether mobile or from a desktop
- to ensure their data is protected as much as possible. It becomes
even more crucial within a virtualised environment, where the data is
consolidated onto fewer machines. However, there are some very good
tools available on the market for automating back-ups and reducing the
amount of maintenance downtime.
vMotion allows IT teams to move data from one virtual machine to
another, and without causing any disruption to service. Microsoft has a
similar tool, called Quick Migration. They remove what is called the
'the single point of failure', ensuring that an organisation's staff
can keep working without even realising what's happening in the IT back
office. Tools like these save time. Let's take vMotion as an example.
There is no need to shut down a server in order to carry out any
maintenance of any kind. You just simply move the data over from one
server to another one.
Server virtualisation allows you to mix and match hardware within a
virtualised infrastructure. So you can use any of the server
virtualisation vendors' solutions within your company. In spite of
their competitive positions, many vendors are now working with each
other. This should increase the interoperability; and match-making
possibilities of each system, but some software applications work
better than others when it comes to server virtualisation.
this reason it is essential for companies to review their business
processes and test this technology before putting into production.
Particular vendors' technologies may suit one organisation better than
the others do, and if you don't have the know-how it might be worth
thinking about working in partnership with one of the vendors, an
independent consultancy or one of their partners.
are a range of different predictions about how the market is going to
grow, but the outlook for the server virtualisation market is
promising. The very fact that server virtualisation can save
organisations much needed finance during the current 'recession' or
'downturn' makes it one of the areas where spending on IT could
continue to increase.
Sales cycles (the period it takes to complete a sale) have dropped from
the average of six months - depending on the size and type of the
project - to 3-4 months within the sales channel during the last
financial quarter of 2008. Jason Evans - CEO of Response Data
Communications - describes it as though people were asleep, and are
perhaps just waking up to the benefits of server virtualisation as they
become more aware of what it can do for their organisations.
VMWare expects the market to grow by at least 35-40%. The company
reports 42% year-on-year growth, with the EMEA region growing by 48%.
The US is a bigger market than EMEA, but the European market is
accelerating. Yet to due redundancies the skills required
to implement server virtualisation projects are still lacking (which
means that some complicated projects take 18 months to implement).
Furthermore, sales cycles can be affected by the fact that 'server
refreshes' usually occur every 3 years on average.
"The market for server virtualisation should grow by up to 45% in the
next 12 months", says Neil Sanderson who adds, "…that's the percentage
of servers that will be virtualised. Server virtualisation is becoming
part of the IT infrastructure, and not a separate technology." With
this in mind James thinks that the open source sector will achieve 60%
growth over the next five years. However, others such as Evans
predict much higher growth - ranging up to 200% for server
virtualisation and up 60% for storage and desktop virtualisation.
Multiple server sites
Davis, CEO of JAD Logic cautiously explains his forecast: "I think we
will see on multiple server sites 80% of them using virtualisation. We
might even see 90% of them, and it will be inevitable. It's interesting
isn't it? What we have seen is a huge swing towards notebooks. We are
seeing virtualised desktops; the type of devices we will use are going
to be converged. The mobile phone is going to be a huge driver as is
general organisations have to become more astute about what they spend
and how they do things in 2009, which is very much seen as a year where
people have to focus on survival. Server virtualisation can help them
to achieve this aim and more – to become more competitive than their
rivals. But some might want to wait, SMEs in particular, to see how the
technology plays out in the large organisations, and make decisions
based on tried and tested technologies. That's where VMWare will
continue to win, but Microsoft's Hyper-V - which comes free with
release 2 of Windows Server 2008 - might still be the preferred option
for smaller firms. Larger firms might also opt for it, but they would
no doubt seek the increased functionality of the enterprise version.
All of the players, including VMWare, offer a similar free option
In fact Microsoft's entry into the market is going to increase
competition. Broadly speaking this is welcomed, and even by VMWare, as
it will shake-up pricing and give customers more choice. VMWare's
market share might fall slightly, but it isn't worried about this. At
the moment those who know about the firm like the brand name and what
it stands for, but they don't like it's pricing - which is
significantly higher than the cost of the alternative solutions offered
by Microsoft, Virtual Iron and Citrix. "Customers will be where the
freeware reigns", says Davis while adding that there will be increased
interest in the "fringe players, providing more choice."
Microsoft's entry does most is to raise awareness of server
virtualisation. However, the stability of Microsoft's Hyper-V is
questioned by many people within the market. As regards the criticisms
of Hyper-V, Sanderson says: "Customers will make their own decision,
but what we are offering is very attractive. I am not aware of any
issues around stability at all, but Hyper-V wasn't released as early as
many people would have liked and the evidence is that it is very
stable. From an architecture perspective, device drivers are not part
of it and we maximise stability by having made it part of the server
operating system." In spite of the criticisms levelled against Hyper-V,
Microsoft represents the main threat to VMWare's dominance - for one
there's the power of the better-known Microsoft brand. VMWare is
generally not so well known as a household name. Microsoft's licensing
arrangements are becoming friendlier to server virtualisation too.
Microsoft teaming up with other vendors like RedHat, although VMWare
and Microsoft also have a relationship, competition is going to
become more fierce, though the general consensus is that there is room
for more market players.
With a shift towards offering freeware, companies like JAD Logic and
the vendors themselves will become increasingly dependent on making
money by offering value-added services. Peter Davis explains: "I would
imagine that we will see 65% of our revenues will come from highly
specialised services. The hardware will become cheaper and cheaper, and
so it gets to a point where there is no margin to be made... business
opportunities will come from customers who take complicated products,
hiring the likes of us to make them work."
Head in the Clouds?
Cloud computing is a strange term, but it's an important development in
the IT market. The cloud is going to deliver the IT infrastructure
needed for virtualisation projects, whether they be server, storage or
desktop, believes Jason Evans. He describes cloud computing as "a
phenomenal idea, but everybody including the dog are claiming to
deliver it, and there are many definitions of what it means which is
causing confusion." Peter Davis asks: "Does the growth of cloud
computing hinder or put forward server virtualisation?" He doesn't
think that it will have an impact on server virtualisation, but what is
very clear is that the market for virtualisation technologies will
continue to grow at a double digit rate as many more companies become
aware of its significant benefits. Competition? The battle has just
begun, but it would take a really hard knock to push VMWare off its
market-leading perch in the server virtualisation market. On the whole
the technology's future is promising.