The concept of virtualization was first introduced over thirty years ago in the Mainframe computer space. At the time, it allowed these large, expensive machines to be divided into smaller partitions that could provide a dedicated computing resource for applications. This partitioning allowed the massive computers to be better utilized, and ensured that each application was isolated to provide a given livel of performance without affecting other applications on the system. This same principle of virtualization was later applied to X86 computer systems to provide the same benefits for smaller business needs.
The Many Benefits of Virtualization
The main drive behind the widespread adoption of server virtualization is to increase the utilization of a single computer system. In years past, most companies installed a single application per server, leaving these systems largely under-provisioned. Studies revealed that the average utilization of single application systems was less than 15%. This isolated server deployment meant that most of the computing power went unused, which translated into higher system costs for a company as well as wasted power, cooling and floor space.
Virtualization changed all that by allowing these systems to be shared among a group of applications or users while still ensuring isolation of performance and access. Virtualization technology provides a way of creating several virtual machines on each individual system that includes a specified amount of computing resources dedicated to that virtual machine. This software enables a single system's resources to be fully utilized, and allows several users and applications to share the same system, lowering their overall cost.
A Wide Variety of Choices
Even though there are many niche companies offering server virtualization technologies today, the two leaders in the space are VMware and a product called Hyper-V from Microsoft. Both products provide the ability to divide a single physical server into several virtual servers. They differ slightly in how they accomplish this and provide distinctly different tools for users to monitor and configure their servers.
VMware is a clear leader with the bulk of the server virtualization business. This lead is largely due to the early release of their software in the market, which provided a strong "first mover" advantage. VMware has continued to update this initial offering to include features like remote management, disaster recovery and clustering. While their products were initially deployed in development environments, their software has slowly moved into the production space with their latest enterprise offerings.
Microsoft was slightly later to market with their Hyper-V product but have gradually built a loyal following among users. The advantage they enjoy is their market dominance in operating systems, that allows them access to existing customers. The company makes it very easy for these customers to deploy their virtualization software and are a partner that many of these companies already know and trust.
Things to Remember
Even though server virtualization software can provide a wide range of advantages for any company, there are a few points to consider before adopting this technology.
The installation of this virtualization software is typically done on a new server that can then be partitioned for use by individual applications. For smaller companies this might mean an initial startup cost for an additional server for their existing applications. Once the new server is ready, applications can be migrated to the virtualized environment and the older server upgraded to a virtualized image for additional applications. The time, cost and planning required for this effort must be considered for any upgrade of this magnitude. Even though the end results will provide a more eco-friendly, fully utilized solution, there is time and expense required for the transition.
Another consideration is the cost of the software that enables virtualization. This software expense is in addition to the server hardware needed to support virtualized machines. The good news for small- to medium-sized businesses is that most companies offering server virtualization software have packages that are priced to accommodate more modest installations. These licensing fees increase with the number of virtual machines created but are nominal for smaller implementations and can easily be offset in the savings they provide by utilizing the hardware more efficiently.
Server virtualization technology has matured greatly in the last few decades and provides a very efficient way of provisioning resources for your applications. It not only makes the setup of these application environments easier, it also maximizes your use of existing resources while helping to control other infrastructure costs such as floor space, electricity and cooling. Companies of any size can benefit from adopting this virtualization technology, which will help them save money while greatly reducing the time needed to deploy new applications.