Hype-OR-Wiser: The benefits of virtualization can be real

As you read the blogs on this portal or visit most industry tradeshows, events or technology portals related to datacenter computing today, you will find it hard not to have noticed virtualization as a topic or as part of the solution for a challenge being discussed. Is it hype or are the people deploying virtualization being wiser? Are there benefits due to virtualization in datacenter? In my opinion the answer is simple: it's not hype, the benefits are real.

Virtualization has been there for decades on mainframes, but the dynamics are changing now with the availability of software and hardware assists that enhance the software and make the software implementation easy and robust for mainstream computing. The deployment of virtualization (including production environments) in mainstream servers is increasing and is projected to increase as many datacenters start to find benefits of virtualization to be real. It is one of the foremost things on the mind of IT administrators/managers, CIO's or CTO's today particularly in North America, Europe and Japan.

The primary motivator in the past few years (and most new adopters in mainstream) has been reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) such as consolidation of workloads running on underutilized servers and using virtualization for test and development for rapid deployment. By consolidating under utilized servers, the obvious gain is the reduction in number of servers and hence the power reduction. But that is only a portion of the real benefit. IT managers who have adopted virtualization for a while now have realized that, i.e., in the long run, they see added benefits of consolidation in terms of reduced cooling requirements, reduced physical inventory management, and better utilization of their existing facilities for scaling their services as customer demand increases. Overall a well planned and implemented consolidation can help improve the bottom line of the datacenter operation. Many utility companies also have come to realize the environmental benefits and are encouraging the datacenters in the service area to adopt virtualization. PG&E, SDG&E, and Austin Energy are among few such utilities offering incentives for adopting virtualization (read: ). For instance PG&E has a program where non residential customers in their service area can participate and get $158 for every server that is consolidated due to virtualization and SDG&E offer 8 cents for every KWhr reduced.

Similar to consolidation by being able to test a new environment to be deployed in an isolated manner on the real and very same system where the current workload/environment is running can speed up deployment of new environments and reduce cost due to any unforeseen downtimes.

IT managers who have already realized some the above CAPEX benefits are moving into new usages that offer better operational excellence (OPEX). That is implementing better load balancing and increasing agility by migrating workloads as required and building in operational resiliency with disaster recovery.

Given the above mentioned benefits the IT end users do not/cannot think of virtualization as a single feature or technology but most view it more as a solution. This is also the philosophy and bigger picture approach to virtualization that I can see in Intel products. After leading the introduction of Virtualization Technology hardware assists in mainstream processors in 2005, Intel has worked with a large ecosystem of software vendors to support/enable the capability for a robust solution. With Core Micro-architecture and now a year old Intel Quad-Core processing capability, IT can leverage the industries best energy efficient computing for virtualization. As consolidation and workloads on a single physical server increase, better performance per watt could deliver better results both in terms of consolidation and per VM performance and at lesser power consumption. Currently the 51xx, 53xx, 54xx, 73xx, processor families are all based on Core Micro-architecture, which means for IT focused on VM mobility and agility, this allows easy VM mobility across these different classes of servers. Introduction of Intel VT FlexMigration earlier this year acknowledges the emerging usage model of VM mobility and allows any VMM vendor to develop solutions that will allow future generation of processors to be pooled with older generation of servers (with Core Micro-architecture). This provides better invest protection for IT.

Further the holistic platform centric approach to virtualization hardware assists for greater performance and/or efficiency can also be seen in Intel's approach to virtualization. Intel VT FlexPriority capability (in the processor) most recently announced provides performance enhancing hardware assists for interrupt virtualization. Intel VT for directed I/O is a chipset centric capability that enables hardware assists for I/O virtualization that can enhance reliability and security through device isolation and I/O performance through direct assignment (read: ). And Intel VT for connectivity with technologies like VMDq at the networking device level provides throughput improvement in virtualization environment (read: ).

Overall virtualization has real end user benefits in form of capital expenditure reduction and improving operational excellence. When coupled with hardware assists that delivers platform and deployable solution centric enhancements, IT end users can stretch those benefits further.