by Lee Congdon, Chief Information Officer, Red Hat, Inc.
You may already be heavily invested in the rapidly emerging technology of virtualization. If so, consider some of the ideas below for further exploiting the technology. If not, now is the right time to get started.
Virtualization provides a set of tools for increasing flexibility and lowering costs, things that are important in every enterprise and Information Technology organization. Virtualization solutions are becoming increasingly available and rich in features.
Since virtualization can provide significant benefits to your organization in multiple areas, you should be establishing pilots, developing expertise and putting virtualization technology to work now.
Virtualization for Innovation
In essence, virtualization increases flexibility by decoupling an operating system and the services and applications supported by that system from a specific physical hardware platform. It allows the establishment of multiple virtual environments on a shared hardware platform.
Organizations looking to innovate find that the ability to create new systems and services without installing additional hardware (and to quickly tear down those systems and services when they are no longer needed) can be a significant boost to innovation.
Among possible approaches are the rapid establishment of development systems for the creation of custom software, the ability to quickly set up test environments, the capability to provision alternate software solutions and compare them without extensive hardware investments, support for rapid prototyping and agile development environments, and the ability to quickly establish new production services on demand.
These environments can be created in house or provisioned externally, as with Amazon’s EC2 offering. Since the cost to create a new virtual environment can be very low, and can take advantage of existing hardware, innovation can be facilitated and accelerated with minimal investment.
Virtualization can also excel at supporting innovation through the use of virtual environments for training and learning. These services are ideal applications for virtualization technology. A student can start course work with a known, standard system environment. Class work can be isolated from the production network. Learners can establish unique software environments without demanding exclusive use of hardware resources.
As the capabilities of virtual environments continue to grow, we’re likely to see increasing use of virtualization to enable portable environments tailored to the needs of a specific user. These environments can be moved dynamically to an accessible or local processing environment, regardless of where the user is located. The user’s virtual environments can be stored on the network or carried on a portable memory device.
A related concept is the Appliance Operating System, an application package oriented operating system designed to run in a virtual environment. The package approach can yield lower development and support costs as well as insuring the application runs in a known, secure environment. An Appliance Operating System solution provides benefits to both application developers and the consumers of those applications.
How these applications of virtualization technology apply in your enterprise will vary. If you are already using the technology in more than one of the areas noted above, consider an additional investment in a solution requiring rapid development. If you haven’t started with virtualization, start with a training and learning implementation to develop skills, then move on to application development and testing. Enterprises with broader experience in virtualization should consider implementing portable virtual environments or application appliances.
Virtualization for Cost Savings
Virtualization can also be used to lower costs. One obvious benefit comes from the consolidation of servers into a smaller set of more powerful hardware platforms running a collection of virtual environments. Not only can costs be reduced by reducing the amount of hardware and reducing the amount of unused capacity, but application performance can actually be improved since the virtual guests execute on more powerful hardware.
Further benefits include the ability to add hardware capacity in a non-disruptive manner and to dynamically migrate workloads to available resources.
Depending on the needs of your organization, it may be possible to create a virtual environment for disaster recovery. Introducing virtualization can significantly reduce the need to replicate identical hardware environments and can also enable testing of disaster scenarios at lower cost.
Virtualization provides an excellent solution for addressing peak or seasonal workloads. If you have complementary workloads in your organization, you can dynamically allocate resources to the applications which are currently experiencing the greatest demand. If you have peak workloads that you are currently provisioning inside your organization, you may be able to buy capacity on demand externally and implement it efficiently using virtual technology.
Cost savings from server consolidation can be compelling. If you are not exploiting virtualization for this purpose, you should start a program now. As you gain experience with virtualization, explore the benefits of workload balancing and virtualized disaster recovery environments.
Virtualization as a Standard Solution
Regardless of the specific needs of your enterprise, you should be investigating virtualization as part of your system and application portfolio as the technology is likely to become pervasive. We expect operating system vendors to include virtualization as a standard component, hardware vendors to build virtual capabilities into their platforms, and virtualization vendors to expand the scope of their offerings.
If you don’t have plans to incorporate virtualization in your solution architecture, now is a very good time to identify a pilot project, allocate some underutilized hardware platforms, and develop expertise with this flexible and cost-effective technology. Then, extend your target architectures to incorporate virtual solutions. Although substantial benefits are available from virtualizing existing services, building new applications with an integrated virtualization strategy can yield further benefits in both manageability and availability.