Five questions on data center virtualization

Data center virtualization is mature and reliable, offering significant benefits to businesses that deploy it.

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Virtualization continues to gain acceptance in data centers of all sizes, yet a startling number of organizations are just beginning to virtualize their infrastructures. Bob Plankers, technology consultant and blogger for The Lone Sysadmin, answered five questions about data center virtualization and gave his observations of this important technology.

Q. What major trends do you currently see taking place in data center virtualization? More specifically, how do you see these trends affecting virtualization’s acceptance and value in the data center?

The march toward data center virtualization continues, but not just servers; it’s everything in the data center (servers, networks and storage). However, the technology is still early in its adoption. It’s been around for years, but it's easy to forget that there are people just starting to virtualize their workloads–the much-publicized trend of broad, high-end adoption is different than what is actually happening. I think that people are starting to get serious about automation and standardization as ways to help them do their jobs. That's helping IT professionals and their business counterparts understand why data center virtualization helps–and that understanding will help to drive more adoption.

Q. Virtualization (e.g., server virtualization) is now a mature technology with several major products to choose from, but what lingering issues do you see with the technology as a whole? What do the major players still need to “get right,” and how are any lingering issues affecting virtual data centers?

Storage and networking complexity continue to be obstacles to virtualization technology, but vendors are working to overcome those obstacles. On the storage front, there is work by numerous vendors, including VMware Inc., to simplify storage and networking. Networking is also getting a lot more complicated as more traffic–storage and workload–compete for limited bandwidth.

More virtualization administrators will need to study their networking architectures and design approaches in order to get things right. Virtualization vendors like VMware and Microsoft downplay this, but it's a reality. Beyond that, there are the operational aspects, such as getting performance information out of VMware vSphere, and into the hands of the system and app administrators so they can troubleshoot. Products like vCenter Operations, Xangati and others look very promising.

Q. Virtualization has come a long way. How do you see the technical and operational considerations of data center virtualization differ today versus previous years?

It seems that every 12 months, everything changes. Look at vSphere 5; we now have storage and compute infrastructure that can talk to each other to advertise capabilities and then make decisions on that data–completely free of administrative involvement. We've got the ability to virtualize workloads that we wouldn't have even considered moving a year ago.

In operational terms, the organizational understanding of virtualization is as high as it's ever been, and people in the different silos of IT are talking about the same things. The network guys are asking the virtualization guys things. So are the storage guys, the system administrators and the application administrators. That's wonderful! It can only help drive adoption of virtualization.

Q. How is the evolution of data center hardware (primarily servers) affecting virtualization use in the data center? Do you see any future hardware developments changing virtualization technology?

There are more virtual machines (VMs) on fewer pieces of hardware. The next generation of hardware will undoubtedly double the number of VMs that I can place on a single host, just like this generation did to the last. Pretty soon, my data center will be two giant hosts–one host will run 10,000 VMs, the other will be used for failover. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but CPUs get faster, RAM gets more dense, and the influence of solid-state drives for storage and caching (especially in the form of PCIe-based devices like FusionIO) will start having a serious effect on performance and scalability.

Q. Finally, what do you see as the current best practices for data center virtualization?

People should remember that infrastructure (power, cooling, network, storage networking, etc.) costs money, as does IT staff. And every minute that an IT staff member spends patching or troubleshooting is a minute not spent on advancing the organization's cause. Data center virtualization is a means of driving up efficiency and utilization while reducing power and cooling, ultimately freeing IT for more strategic projects.

This was first published in October 2011

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