2009 - A Virtual Year?

I was alerted recently to an interesting conundrum that is VMworld 2009.

This is an exhibition, hosted by VMware, taking place next month in Cannes – and you can take a stroll around the virtual exhibition at www.vmworld.com – I managed to head to the bar and, in attempting to play the piano, won a free T-shirt by uncovering a hidden map.

At this point you’re probably thinking I’ve had one over the eight, or been smoking something slightly stronger than a Marlboro Light. In both cases you’d be wrong – you really can do this stuff at on the VMworld website. The question is – in what is a virtualised world, hosted by a virtualisation company, why actually have a real, physical exhibition? That said, based on previous experience, not much in Cannes can be described as “real” – especially the people.

So, in a previous blog I somewhat jokingly asked whether 2009 was going to be the year of video conferencing (again) but a somewhat more serious suggestion is that it could well finally be the year of virtualisation (as well as of the Ox in China of course), with due apologies to all old IBMers who have been using VM for 30+ years. After all, if consolidation and cost-saving is the name of the game, who isn’t going to give virtualisation some space on their servers? In the Broadband-Testing labs we’ve had VMware installed long before the company was even acquired by EMC – and that is in the dim and distant past now. And there was a real issue with it in the early days. Yes, it worked, but it ran like the proverbial dog. And the last thing you want to do is make some incarnation of Windows server go even slower…

However, recent testing with the likes of my mates Zeus (app delivery controllers) and Solarflare (10 Gig adapters) has shown that VMware, MS Virtual Server and Xen have got significantly more efficient, to the point that we were basically able to achieve line rate at 10Gbps running in virtual environments. That is on a server platform it should be said. At desktop level, virtualisation hasn’t been quite so warmly embraced yet. However, Citrix and Intel have just announced a joint development of a new “bare metal” hypervisor that runs independently of the client OS, good for security, and should offer better performance than before, since it allows applications to run on the local client, not at a remote server. Very PC.

Back on the server front, this wave of virtualisation means a lot of re-testing is required, as well as finding new management tools to make sure everything is running as it should. It’s one thing to monitor a single server instance, but when you have – say – three or four virtual servers running on one physical server, it makes life a lot more, ahem, interesting. My mates up at NNT – NewNetTechnologies – reckon they have a solution for this, so we’ll be putting it to the test over the next few weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes…