Now that companies have mastered the virtualization of server operations, vendors are increasingly selling the idea of virtualizing the entire data center. The idea of enabling the dynamic management of servers, storage and network devices through a single "fabric" places new virtualization offerings firmly in the realm of becoming a data center platform. That platform may spawn a new IT position for a person who would supervise the management of the virtual layer of server, network and storage infrastructures.
Virtualization may be becoming something so ubiquitous and essential to operations that it has become a new form of operating system for the data center. The idea began percolating most recently in September during VMware's VMworld 2007. During a speech, Patrick Gelsinger, Intel's senior vice president and general manager, said "Virtualization disaggregates the traditional view of the operating system and creates the opportunity for us to create a data center operating system of tomorrow."
The discussion gained momentum when Cisco Systems and VMware announced an integration initiative wherein Cisco's VFrame Data Center would include VMware Infrastructure 3. The appliance upgrade, a product that fits into the Cisco's Data Center 3.0 vision, is intended to automate IT orchestration in the areas of server, network and storage provisioning for shops invested in Cisco hardware. By adding service orchestration, VFrame can use a service template to provision network services for Internet-facing applications running on VMware Infrastructure, including firewalls, content load balancing, switch and server trunks, and access control lists.
VFrame dynamically loads VMware's ESX Server onto bare-metal computer hardware, configures the physical server I/O to use Cisco data center switches and offers a two-way policy API with VMware VirtualCenter to coordinate the configuration. As a result, data center operators can mix and match the right amount of hardware services and server resources to a particular set of applications.
Krish Ramakrishnan, vice president and general manager of Cisco's server virtualization business unit, likens the individual functions delivered in the release by each company to the operations of a planned community. "Think about VMware assigning renters individual apartments," he said, "and VFrame coordinating all their requirements as to where they get automatic gym memberships, get their rights to the pool, their rights to the recreation room, their keys, rather than having to apply to each of those departments."
Now in beta among unnamed customers, the US$50,000 VFrame appliance is especially relevant in multiuser environments such as service providers, where multiple customers are sharing the same server, storage and networking infrastructure, according to Brian Byun, vice president of global partners and solutions at VMware. "It's giving [customers] a set of knobs at two levels," said Byun. "At the physical network layer and another at the virtual layer."