Virtualized reality gets physical

Unless you've pulled a Rip Van Winkle under the router racks, you've probably noticed that "virtualization" is one of the biggest buzzwords around these days. Seems like everything's gone virtual: servers, storage, security, communications, the workforce (not to mention reality).

As I've written in past columns, virtualization is indeed a fine thing. Virtualized storage and computing facilities have higher utilization (and therefore lower capital costs) and are easier to provision than their non-virtualized counterparts. Virtualized security can more effectively adapt to threats. Virtualized communications ensures applications get the bandwidth they need. And virtualized workforces can reduce personnel and facility costs while improving an organization's ability to react rapidly. Lower costs and increased flexibility -- what's not to love?

Unfortunately, it's easy to get so caught up in the virtual world that you forget that the physical world still matters. But it does -- and many times, it's the physical challenges that upend the apple cart of many a virtualized architecture. As my Nemertes colleagues John Burke and Andreas Antonopoulos have written extensively about for Network World, four of the top five concerns that data center managers have today involve physical issues: power consumption, HVAC/cooling, footprint and power density. In other words, the belief that we can decouple ourselves from the real world is a major mistake.

But there's opportunity in correcting that mistake. Some of the hottest growth areas around are in industries that handle the physical side of virtualized reality.

Some examples:

  • Hosting companies such as Equinix, 365 Main and Internap offload the power, space, power density and footprint problems from enterprises by offering hosted data center facilities, complete with management, security, and broadband connectivity. As companies increasingly consolidate their data centers, they're also assessing outsourcing -- and options like these provide a one-stop-shop approach to tackling some of the toughest challenges.
  • Meantime, server providers such as IBM, HP, and Sun are offering water-cooled systems to address the power density/HVAC problems that arise in hyper-amped data centers. Yep, it's "back to the future"! IBM in particular has been moving aggressively in this area (the company recently licensed its technology to Panduit, which manufactures cabling and electrical infrastructure for data centers). And the major HVAC system providers providers (Libert and APC) have both introduced water-cooling systems. Finally, if you're still not convinced, the good folks at Alienware recently introduced a water-cooled version of their high-end home gaming computer.

    - Interconnect providers such as TelX and CRG West offload the challenge of physical interconnectivity, specifically for telcos that require connections with multiple other carriers (such as, for example, global telcos that want to offer their customers access to a range of points within the United States). TelX in particular specializes in extremely high-density telco interconnects, offering one-stop connectivity to dozens to hundreds of telcos in its facilities around the United States.

    The bottom line? While you're busy architecting your virtualized reality, don't forget about the laws of physics. They may be inconvenient, but you can't ignore 'em.

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