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Virtualization Set For Desktop Surge In 2009

The push for cost savings will sweep virtualization solutions from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and others past the server, onto the desktop and into the cloud.
In September, the Distributed Management Task Force launched its Virtualization Management, or VMan, initiative to "deliver much needed open industry standards to the management of virtualized environments," said Winston Bumpus, president of the standards body, in an interview. VMan provides a neutral way of monitoring running virtual machines and seeks to connect the dots between a VM and its underlying hardware, regardless of which brand of VM it may be, Bumpus said.

The DMTF's work makes it more likely that IT managers will be able see a variety of virtual machines through one management console. Its biggest stride to date has been to release Open Virtualization Format, which allows the hypervisor of one vendor to recognize and reformat a VM from another vendor. So far, there's no universal standard by which all running virtual machines might be formatted. Instead, each vendor offers the capability to migrate a rival's VM out of its own environment and into the governing hypervisor's.

Tools For Cross-Hypervisor Management

Consequently, complex virtual environments require careful shopping for tools from the few startups that have been willing to tackle cross-hypervisor management. They include DynamicOps, a spin-off of Credit Suisse; Embotics; Fortisphere; VMLogix; and the Vizioncore unit of Quest Software. These small vendors can often manage Citrix XenServer as well as VMware's ESX server, and a few throw in Microsoft's Hyper-V as well.

The management tool field is still filled with specialized players, which sometimes can do some surprising things. ASG Software Solutions, the former Allen Systems Group, brings old-line mainframe virtual machine experience to the x86 virtualized server as well. ASG Sysload can peer inside a VM on the mainframe running Linux and see how much CPU, memory, and other resources its application is using. Likewise, in 2008, it brought out a version of Sysload that could peer into a VMware ESX Server VM and see what resources it's using.

"Most monitoring tools look at what's deployed but they can't look inside the guest and see what's running and the assets being utilized," said Ed Hallock, senior director of infrastructure and operations. As more and more virtual machines are deployed, performance issues will come to the fore, the same as with heavily loaded physical servers.

ASG is looking at supporting Hyper-V as well but has no timeframe within which it plans to do so.

Virtualization In Cloud Computing

Another front that will rapidly advance in 2009 is the role of virtualization in cloud computing. Whether an internal or external cloud, the way clouds work is to manipulate VMs in some kind of standardized, predictable environment that easily scales up to the level sought by the user.

Customers import their workloads to the cloud as pre-packaged sets of applications and operating systems, ready to run in the cloud's preferred VM format. In the case of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, that's Amazon Machine Image or a version of open source Xen.

While VMware is using the catchphrase "data center operating system" for an upcoming set of virtualization management products. It could just as well call it the cloud operating system. In addition to virtual infrastructure management, VMware is providing APIs and service infrastructure on which to base a set of cloud computing services. BT, Rackspace, Savvis, Sungard, Terremark, T-Systems, and Verizon Business make use of its vCloud APIs and service management offerings as the basis for their own cloud services, said Dan Chu, VMware's VP of emerging products.

VMware this year is moving toward giving enterprises, through the virtualization layer, an ability to federate their own internal clouds with external clouds, said Chu. It will give hosts in a cloud the ability to run an enterprise's applications in a virtual machine without modification and apply a set of policies, such as a limit on application response time to customers.

Virtualization as the manager of the cloud is coming as a set of VMware vCloud products at an undisclosed date in 2009, Chu said. In effect, the more thoroughly the data center becomes virtualized, the more flexibly it can be managed. You might call it an agile software infrastructure or you might rename it the enterprise cloud.

In 2009, virtualization will have an impact far beyond server consolidation. It will start changing the relationship between IT managers and end users, allowing faster service and more automated administration. It should give both more flexible resources for getting their jobs done -- at a lower cost.