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How Virtualization Is Revolutionizing Business Data Centers

In an industry that's often disappointed by the Next Big Thing, virtualization is delivering, allowing businesses to reduce the need to pile more and bigger server hardware into strained data centers. Here's how companies are reaping the benefits of virtualization, and avoiding the pitfalls.

The Charlotte Observer was trying to figure out how to cram more servers into its already bulging data center. Originally designed for a mainframe, the 2,000-square-foot center was nearly filled with 150 Intel-based servers, and still more were needed.

What to do? The newspaper reversed course. Rather than deploy more servers, it has spent the past 14 months eliminating them by morphing single-purpose servers into virtual machines within host computers. Space opened up as the number of servers--currently 120--was reduced, says Geoff Shorter, the Observer's IT infrastructure manager. Power and cooling costs were cut in half, from $7,000 a month to about $3,500. Shorter now expects to be down to around 30 quad-core servers in three years, and he envisions shrinking the data center to 800 square feet, less than half its current size. "We plan to virtualize every server we have," he says.

Virtualization--the science of creating multiple self-contained application environments on a single physical server--is altering the way businesses manage computing resources and changing the skills they expect from their IT staffs. In an industry driven by--and just as often disappointed by--the Next Big Thing, virtualization is just that, delivering in spades on the promise of efficient hardware utilization, better resource allocation, flexible application services, and lower costs.

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But there are pitfalls. Moving to a virtualized environment isn't cheap. Security is a wild card. Application performance can suffer. And vendor support for virtualized applications can be problematic. In short, the proliferation of virtual machines threatens to cause some of the same issues associated with the proliferation of servers.

But managed correctly--and there's technology and techniques emerging to do just that--virtualization gives IT managers a powerful set of tools to revamp data centers and harness the complexity that threatens to overwhelm them.


Small is beautiful in the virtual world, says VMware's Greene

Small is beautiful in the virtual world, says VMware's Greene
Swarms of IT professionals descended on last month's VMworld conference (sponsored by market leader and EMC subsidiary VMware) to figure out how to get virtualization right. When it started two years ago, VMworld drew 1,200 devotees. This year, with attendance mushrooming to 7,000, it was moved from San Francisco's Moscone West Hall (capacity 4,000) to the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center. "This whole community has the vibe of the early Mac community," said Andy Bechtolsheim, chief architect of Sun's Network Systems Group, at the event.

Walking a convention center hallway, Chuck Timm, a young network engineer, explains how he got from Edward Hospital in Napierville, Ill., to palm-studded Los Angeles. Like the Charlotte Observer, the hospital is running out of space in its data center. "I gave management the option of sending me to this conference or blowing out the walls," Timm says.

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