LINUXWORLD SF - Virtualization: More than less servers

Virtualization is about more than server consolidation, and enterprise customers need to understand how to take advantage of the technology to create a dynamic infrastructure that responds to business demands, a panel of industry experts said during a virtualization-focused session at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo Wednesday.

Virtualization was high on the list at the show, where attendees were looking at how best to deploy Linux and open source in critical business environments.

"As soon as people move away from consolidation and start thinking about neat new uses of virtualization for application migration and service-oriented architectures, virtualization will take off," said Jim Fister, lead technical strategist for the Digital Enterprise Group at Intel.

Fister was joined by Steven McDowell, division manager for emerging technologies at AMD; Kevin Leahy, director of virtualization solutions and strategy for IBM; Mike Neil, product unit manager for Windows virtualization at Microsoft, and Alex Vasilevsky, CTO at Virtual Iron Software. Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing officer of Virtual Iron, which bases its virtualization management tools on the open source Xen hypervisor, moderated the panel titled "Virtualization and the Next Generation Data Center."

During the panel discussion, which considered questions from audience members, the panel delved into the maturing nature of virtualization software, which is getting a boost from hardware-assisted virtualization technologies that are now available on both Intel and AMD processors.

Interest in virtualization on x86 servers is on the rise. Gartner deems virtualization as the single most strategic technology in data centers today. But while VMware has had virtualization tools for x86 servers since 2001, less than 1 percent of all x86 servers are currently being virtualized, analysts say.

A big reason, according to panelists, is that companies don't yet appreciate the role of virtualization in creating so-called utility computing environments in which IT resources are pooled and then allocated depending on business needs. In addition, the software necessary to manage these virtual environments is just starting to mature.

So far, it's that management issue, as the number of virtual servers proliferates, that has been stalling deployments, the panelists said.

"The real key... is in adding to the basic virtualization capabilities the management capabilities that let you automate things," Leahy said.

When enterprises get the tools to manage those virtual environments, "they don't hit the wall and have more virtual images than they can manage," he said.

Companies such as VMware, with Infrastructure 3, and Virtual Iron, which has its virtualization management software in beta, focus on creating the tools necessary to manage virtual environments. It's a direction the entire industry is moving in, as the basic virtualization capability gets built into x86 processors.

"We're rapidly approaching a state where the hypervisor is commoditized; it's just a given," McDowell said. "The question is how do I manage these virtual servers."

Leahy agreed, adding that automation, meaning the ability to dynamically move applications among virtual resources, is key in any management approach.

"As the hypervisor commoditizes -- and that doesn't mean it has no value, it means it's pervasive -- there will be new ways of tying business processes together," he said. "Using policies, qualities of service for applications... the application will define what I require and then the infrastructure, through management, will decide what's available."

Panelists also talked about the Xen open source virtualization technology, saying that there is nothing that indicates Xen is not enterprise-ready. Novell has already integrated Xen into its SuSE Linux Enterprise 10 release and Red Hat says it will include Xen in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, due for release by the end of the year.

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