Virtualization 101: Tips and Interview From Two Experts (Part One)

If you’ve been reading even for a short length of time, you’ve probably come across at least one article on virtualization. Instead of having 10 servers (or more) you can use less servers and use smart software to segment the power of the servers into virtual machines.
Chris Barclay, Director of Product Management at Virtual Iron and Jerry Melnick is Chief Technology Officer at Marathon Technologies Corporation help us understand more about virtualization.
Chris Barclay – Part One
Jerry Melnick – Part Two
What is virtualization?
Virtualization creates an abstraction layer between physical hardware and operating systems thereby freeing operating systems and applications from the physical boundaries of the hardware. The impact is far greater than server consolidation and includes the ability to dynamically allocate computing resources quickly and easily, simplify the provisioning and deployment of systems, increase service levels and streamline the management of the data center. Once a company starts to use virtualization, they quickly learn that it does a whole lot more than consolidate servers. For example, the strongest value for virtualization according to a recent Forrester Research survey is helping organizations reduce cost and complexity for business continuity.

Why has it been of growing importance for larger businesses? There’s quite a bit of press about it in eWeek, InfoWorld and etc
The benefits are immediate and ROI is impossible to ignore. Virtualization addresses some of IT’s and business’ biggest issues today. Data centers are literally bursting at the seams. They’re hitting limits on power and cooling and rack space; utilizing less than 10% of their computing power; drowning in server sprawl; unable to meet user’s demands for service. If ever there was a panacea, virtualization just might be it.
What type of smaller business would be a candidate for virtualization. If you only have one or two servers, would it still be worth it?What are the costs associated with an implementation? Maybe use 1 or 2 scenarios.
It’s pretty straightforward really. We’ve had users download our software online and have it up and running, delivering real value within a few hours. That scenario is not uncommon, but there are others. In this scenario, the user only needs to purchase Virtual Iron at $799 per socket. Scenario 2 – most organizations introduce virtualization as they upgrade their x86 servers. So they have the cost of the x86 hardware, the cost of the software license and there may be some upfront data center assessment work with a value-added reseller to help identify the best workloads to virtualize and which workloads to put together on the same server. Servers come in a range of prices – it’s possible to purchase low-end servers for less than $1000, but a standard server for virtualization will be about $3000. Scenario 3 might involve a more advanced use case such as disaster recovery or dynamic CPU capacity management. Then you might add some limited consulting time to set automated policies and you may have to supplement your networked storage capacity. Some organizations may purchase their first SAN with a virtualization implementation. Analyst group ESG recently surveyed small and medium enterprises and found a very high attach rate of SAN to virtual infrastructure. Benefits such as LiveMigration and virtual machine recovery make such an investment very attractive.
What is the process – in summary – to enable a virtualized environment? If I have five servers how do I reduce them to one?Is all virtualization software the same? If not – how do I choose the one for my business?
Definitely not. There are big differences (and similarities) in today’s server virtualization solutions. Some are better suited for large businesses and some are better suited for smaller companies. The biggest differences are in price, ease of use and feature/functionality. These criteria are no longer mutually exclusive. To get one, users don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the other. Users need to consider not only the acquisition cost, but also the skill set required to effectively deploy and maintain the software. Users should identify their needs – present and future – up front and make sure the solution they choose can handle that and more before they buy. One of the most significant differences between virtualization software today is management features. Users should look for value-add capabilities such as virtual machine recovery and load balancing to allow the organization to achieve the highest return on their investment.
What is the ratio of hardware one needs pre and post virtualization? I assume 10 servers can’t be virtualized onto just any single server – it has to have some power, right?
As they say in the auto business, mileage may vary. It all depends on the different workloads being migrated, the capacity demands of those workloads and the power and size of the servers involved. For example, does a certain workload spike at certain times of the week? Do you have enough headroom to manage those spikes? Can you move that workload over to another physical machine for those spikes and then move it back? So, the short answer is yes, you could absolutely consolidate ten servers to one. It just wouldn’t always make sense to do it. A rule of thumb is about 5 physical servers per 1 dual or quad core processor, but it doesn’t tell the real story.