VMware leads users toward utility computing

With its Intel servers spiraling out of control, news conglomerate Gannett turned to virtual server company VMware to put multiple virtual machines on single physical boxes.

Gannett deployed VMware's ESX Server software earlier this year and began migrating applications from servers that were running at less than 15 percent utilization to virtual machines on four-way systems. Eric Kuzmack, IT architect at Gannett, says it's too early to tell what kind of utilization rates he will see, but he expects to be able to run between 15 and 25 virtual machines on a four-processor server.

By deploying ESX Server, Gannett eliminated many of the headaches associated with managing dozens of one- and two-processor servers, but it did little to deal with management issues surrounding operating systems and applications. That's because with ESX Server, users have to log on to each host server and manage each virtual machine individually.

That's where VMware's new Virtual Center product comes in. Announced in June as Control Center, the software product has been in beta testing for most of the summer. Virtual Center is slated to be generally available later this month.

Virtual Center provides a single interface for managing virtual machines running Windows, NetWare or Linux on multiple physical servers. With Virtual Center, users can do things such as provision multiple systems at once by creating configuration templates that can be copied and shared across multiple servers for quick deployment.

In addition, Virtual Center and a technology called VMotion, which the company says moves operating applications from one physical server to another without disruption, let IT administrators create a virtual pool of resources out of all their servers.

Virtual Center and the VMotion technology are key parts of VMware's focus on virtual infrastructure, an effort to separate software and operating systems from server, storage and network hardware to enable the provisioning of software workloads based on resource demands.

It's an idea that Gannett's Kuzmack says he likes.

"Virtual Center gives us the ability to view the entire farm as a set of processor, memory and disk resources," he says. "When I hit a threshold I can either move my workloads around, add a new a host if I need to or add more disk."

Today, the migration of virtual machines must be done manually and Kuzmack would like to see Virtual Center let him handle that automatically. Mullany says a software developer's kit that also is expected to be announced this month will enable that kind of automation by plugging into management tools such as IBM's ThinkDynamics or Hewlett-Packard's OpenView.

Another feature of the Virtual Motion technology is that servers can be taken down for maintenance without disruption, Kuzmack says.

In addition, Virtual Center gives Kuzmack the ability to delegate access rights to virtual machines for different administrators. Virtual Center integrates with Active Directory to enable him to integrate security into server management, he says.

"It provides us the ability to granularly delegate authority over virtual machines where in the past it was too complicated for us to do," he says.

A possible drawback of the VMware technology is that it creates a single point of failure: Should one physical server go down, all the virtual machines on that server go with it.

Mullany says that Virtual Center and VMotion alleviate that problem because virtual machines can be migrated quickly from a problem server.

Pricing for Virtual Server is $5,000 for the management server and $300 for each management CPU agent. VMotion is an add-on to Virtual Center, and pricing was not immediately released.

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