Virtualisation – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

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Here are some updates on VMware. Also sometimes called “The Cloud”, it’s the current fad in IT infrastructure.

1) Virtualisation is going to happen whether we like it or not

  • This was driven initially by under-utilized servers, but ease of management and configuration has taken over as the leading reasons for virtualisation.
  • Currently only 30% of organisational server infrastructure is in the virtualised environment. If an organisation doesn’t reach 80% virtualised, it doesn’t gets the efficiency benefits of virtual infrastructure, but ends up with large overheads managing both virtual infrastructure and traditional infrastructure.
  • VMware hopes to push this to 50% in 2011-12
  • The issues with adoption are confidence levels in application-infrastructure interoperability, and security.
  • VMware has notoriously low security, and is itself a gateway to accessing the entire virtualised infrastructure. (Search Google for “vmware hack”)

2) Overheads

  • Virtualisation comes with overheads.
  • If installing Vista, or Windows 7 was not enough, virtualisation can help by adding 10-20% overhead to CPU usage.
  • VMs also generate alot more network traffic.

3) Configuration

  • VM configuration is going to be crucial as “the server” as it is spread over a VM, SAN storage, and network “bus”, and actual physical locations. So when we have slow VMs, it could be the result of alot of different factors now.
  • A clone of VM for failover/failback scenarios can also generate alot of network traffic. So virtualisation increases network overheads.

4) The Virtual Desktop

  • VMWare hopes to bring back thin-client computing with virtualised downloadable profiles from VM infrastructure.
  • Personally, I think this is a shot in the dark, as the PC-era is gone, and computing is already transitioning to the fragmented plethora of thin-clients (eg mobile devices, ipads, netbooks) with profiles stored in SaaS applications.
  • The benefits of centralized profiles is supposedly in data security, however, with SaaS, fragmenting application, platforms, I doubt the virtual desktop will make it to the enterprise before iDesktops.

5) Capability

  • VMWare ESX 5 now supports upto 32 cores, and upto 1TB RAM per VM. These are called the “Big VMs” (or “Monster VMs” if you were a VMware sales person) that VMware has now released.
  • This may support the more computationally intensive applications, but only if the virtual infrastructure has been upgraded.

6) Visibility

  • From an application development point-of-view, understanding the performance and capability of an application in the virtual infrastructure is less transparent as performance issues are less transparent. (eg. is a network, or disk bottleneck? or over-utilisation of the CPU?)
  • Processor CPU utility within a Windows/Unix VM is not an accurate reflection of the actual processing capability available to your application.
  • So VM infrastructure performance statistics needs to be actively shared (in real-time) with application teams.
  • Using SPEC CPU benchmarking tools is another way to measure application-infrastructure performance.
  • However let’s hope for an open environment with open information sharing.

7) Super-Computing / Grid Computing

  • Although there has not been any noted implementation of supercomputing in VM infrastructure, there are no reasons why this is not possible.
  • Grid Computing, and maybe some aspects of super-computing is probably possible on VM infrastructure with the appropriate HPC software in place.

8) The Carbon Footprint

  • The Carbon Footprint is now the new driver for VM infrastructure.
  • Running un-optimised / under-utilitzed servers kills the environment.
  • If electricity prices go up by 30% in the next 2-5 years, what will organisations have to do to mitigate that?

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