Virtualisation – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly


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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