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Tap In To Software Virtualization

Quoting Processor.com

Plenty of buzzwords come and go in the IT world, but virtualization belongs to the rare breed that extends beyond buzzword status to reach a legitimate foothold in the enterprise.

In fact, in a recent research report by Enterprise Management Associates, 74% of surveyed enterprises indicated that they're currently deploying virtualization in both test and development environments. Further, 64% of enterprises are using it in application server environments, and 47% are using it for Web server purposes. The benefits of software virtualization for small to medium-sized enterprises in particular are undeniable.

"Software virtualization enables any sized business to implement the appropriate levels of protection against downtime by removing the typical barriers associated with alternative availability solutions, such as clusters and proprietary hardware,” says Michael Bilancieri, director of products at Marathon Technologies. “By exposing just a single operating environment, the need for specialized expertise and applications is removed, allowing smaller businesses to implement without extensive training, additional personnel, complex and expensive hardware configurations, or more-expensive versions of their applications.”

Virtually Invaluable

Thanks to its multifaceted approach to solving age-old problems, software virtualization technology is quickly becoming an escape valve for companies with varied IT-related dilemmas. Rich Bentley, market segment manager with Altiris, explains that customers who have older, internally developed applications that encounter trouble when running in the latest operating environment can find that software virtualization technology helps isolate the applications, in turn helping to avoid conflicts.

For example, Altiris’ Software Virtualization Solution places applications into managed units called Virtual Software Packages (www.altiris.com). When these units are deployed to PCs, they don’t alter the baseline operating system, which means the applications can be instantly turned on, or activated, and then instantly turned off, or deactivated, without leaving any traces behind.

In addition to helping extend the life of legacy applications, such environments can also ease major software upgrades, allowing company employees to use new and old versions of software side-by-side until they’re comfortable with the new version. Bentley also notes that companies that spend up to 80 hours testing software prior to rollout can dramatically cut that time using virtualization because they can avoid the conflicts typically inherent in the testing process.

According to Alex Vasilevsky, founder and chief technology officer at Virtual Iron, software virtualization can also help with data center consolidation. “[It] improves the utilization of current systems and helps to get more out of today’s industry-standard hardware via partitioning and consolidation,” Vasilevsky says. “This also enables companies to run unmodified OSes concurrently on a single server.”

Inherent Challenges

Although software virtualization can help to extract value from existing hardware, its use involves an ironic twist: You’ll need enough horsepower to run it at all. However, enterprises already using newer hardware technologies, but not necessarily expensive ones, shouldn’t encounter much trouble with current virtualization products.

Vasilevsky explains that first-generation virtualization products relied on a technique called binary translation to fully virtualize the Intel instruction set. Although this technique works, Vasilevsky explains that it’s slow, so many of these products have been relegated to nonmission-critical applications.

“With recent hardware advances from AMD and Intel, a new type of virtualization model is now possible; we call it native virtualization,” Vasilevsky says. “In this model, instead of doing binary translation, the virtualization software fully utilizes the hardware-assisted virtualization built into the new Intel and AMD CPUs. This kind of solution is capable of delivering on the promise of applying virtualization to all applications, including mission-critical applications, on [an] industry-standard platform.”

In addition to those horsepower demands, software virtualization also adds a new software layer, requiring IT staff to familiarize themselves with it. Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica, illustrates an example: “If you’re hosting a dozen virtual OSes on a single machine and that machine goes down, you have more problems than in the old setup wherein you had one OS per machine. However, virtualization can be configured, depending upon the product, to support failover so that you can shift virtual OSes quite quickly.”

Seamless Transition

Some basic training might be necessary for IT staff, but for end users, the integration of software virtualization is generally seamless; in fact, most users won’t even realize that applications are virtualized. Once these applications are deployed, the virtualization software generally oversees most of the work involved with the ongoing operation.

“SME customers have a large number of applications and versions and find it a challenge to manage, test, and eliminate software conflicts,” Bentley says. “Software virtualization helps simplify the application management process, reduces the amount of interoperability testing that is required, and makes it easier to fix software problems that do occur.”

Read the original, here.

Published Friday, October 20, 2006 6:54 AM by David Marshall
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