At the recent VMWorld conference in San Francisco, conference organizers from VMWare Inc. were close to being overwhelmed, with attendance announced at 17,000. With businesses and government agencies slashing travel budgets, this is further evidence that virtualization technology has cemented itself as a cornerstone of any serious IT strategy.
Virtualization has come a long way since it was popularized by IBM in the late 1960s. Back then it was used as a method to utilize mainframe computers more efficiently. Today the principle is the same: Use your hardware more efficiently. But instead of giant behemoths bigger and heavier than automobiles, the computers upon which virtualization is made popular today could easily be packed, 10 at a time, in even the smallest of cars.
Simply put, the goal of virtualization is to fully utilize your hardware. For example, even the most efficient Windows-based server uses, at most, roughly 10 percent of the computing capacity of the hardware. The other 90 percent (and usually much, much more) sits around idle waiting for things to do. Virtualization technologies allow you to have multiple versions of Windows running on one physical machine, thereby using the idle time and kicking up utilization rates, often to more than 80 percent of the processing capacity of the machine.
While virtualization is not limited to Windows-based servers and technology from VMWare, this is the most popular implementation method in use today. IBM, for example, uses its PowerVM technology on its Unix-based System p servers (formerly known as pSeries, formerly known as RS6000).
Besides the efficiency improvement, what other benefits does an organization achieve when virtualizing their environments? For one, facilities costs for space, power and cooling. Think about it: If you can deploy 20 Windows servers onto a single physical machine, you’re running only one computer instead of 20. You need power for only one, you need only the physical space for one and you need only the AC for one. Of course, that one computer may be bigger (and more powerful) than your standard everyday server, but the savings are clear nonetheless.
As such, we are still amazed when we see folks with stacks and rows of servers in their facilities. Many see the light, however, when considering housing their gear at a third-party service provider. So called "co-location" or "co-lo" sites typically charge based on how much space the equipment needs, how much power it burns and how much heat it puts out, along with how much network bandwidth is needed. Clearly, the cost to house even one big server is much less than 20 (or more) little ones.
Virtualization proponents also claim that ongoing costs associated with support and maintenance are reduced in a virtual environment. While the jury is still out with respect to the administrative effort required by a virtual environment, hardware maintenance costs represent a clear savings. Again, you’re paying for maintenance on only one server instead of 20.