Enterprise Applications: Living in a Virtual Machine

Managing a large number of personal computers (PCs) in an organization can be a nightmare for information technology (IT) professionals.

{mosimage} It can be the same with servers. What’s more, the craving for data by enterprise applications has led to a proliferation of server farms that have such a demand for electrical power that they have begun to be noticed by green engineering analysts. For these reasons, more IT professionals lately have begun studying a move to virtualization technology.

“Virtualization is the ability to partition a physical computer to run multiple operating systems or multiple instances of Microsoft Windows [operating systems] at the same time,” explains John Palmieri, chief technology officer of virtualization consulting services firm Virtera (www.virteratech.com), in New York. “Odds are, a typical PC in an office environment would be 3 percent to 5 percent utilized throughout its life. That’s like saying there is 97 percent unutilized capacity. With virtualization, I can run multiple operating systems, and drive utilization up to 70 percent.”

The same holds true for servers. According to Palmieri, it’s possible to buy one server and get rid of 13—saving on power, cooling, maintenance and other infrastructure costs.

Brian Duckering, senior product marketing manager, endpoint virtualization group, for software supplier Symantec Corp. (www.symantec.com), Mountain View, Calif., notes, “I worked in manufacturing automation for a while. This is similar. We’re talking automating processes—taking complex things and applying technology to make it easier and to allow workers to be more productive. Virtualization allows that to happen. It’s the idea that you’re taking one or more levels of the computing stack and inserting a shim between the elements. The question is how to give the user the most productive environment.”

Business agility

Agreeing that business value goes deeper than mere cost reduction, Palmieri says, “The true power in virtualization is not consolidation and cost, but comes from the business agility point of view. For example, when I recently hired an employee, he asked for a new e-mail address. I sent a link in three minutes to his new desktop with everything he needed to go to work. Virtualization looks and feels like the desktop, but IT can manage revision control and version control.”

The traditional way of managing the problem of computer proliferation within large organizations was thin-client technology. This moved all of the computing power to mainframes and just put a display, keyboard and mouse on each user’s desk. But according to Dan McCall, president and chief executive officer of software start-up Virtual Computer Inc. (www.virtualcomputer.com), Westford, Mass., this just doesn’t give users the same experience as having computers on their desktops. The ability to plug in USB (universal serial bus) devices, for example, is lost. “Another problem exists in that you can’t get 50 PCs on a server economically. It takes about a gigabyte of memory to run [the] Windows XP [operating system]. If you have 50 users, you need 50 gigabytes of memory on a server. This becomes more expensive than 50 PCs. So you don’t save any money.”

At Austin, Texas-based automation and instrumentation supplier National Instruments Corp. (NI, www.ni.com), virtualization technology is used in-house to maintain and test for old versions of software, says Gerardo Garcia, group manager, industrial software. “Another area where you can use virtualization is in real-time, where you can run a real-time operating system and meanwhile run your human-machine interface on the Windows PC partition,” Garcia adds.

Casey Weltzin, product manager, LabView real-time at NI, says that virtualization fits well with multicore processors. “If we blink, in time, we’ll soon see 16-core or 32-core processors. This will allow designers to reduce hardware. They will be able to turn one set of processors into a machine capable of doing many things. It will be interesting to see the things people do with all this power.”

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Automation World Editor in Chief.

Virtera
www.virteratech.com

Symantec Corp.
www.symantec.com

Virtual Computer Inc.
www.virtualcomputer.com

National Instruments Corp.
www.ni.com
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