I have done some more studying of VMware and its product line and they certainly seem to have it together in their product offering. It should be noted here that virtualization technology predates VMware and that they have competition in Microsoft Hyper-V, Xensource, Red Hat, etc., but I am going to focus on VMware for now. The basic premise of the technology, for the uninitiated, is virtualization of servers (and desktops, but more on that later) on physical machines. A server running an application on a physical machine is “virtualized” – that is the software, data, network interface card, RAM, cpu, storage, bios, etc. are all turned into code elements and run as a “virtual machine” on another server that can then hold a number of these virtual machines. The initial driving force of this technology was server consolidation. It is typical to be able to average reducing 15 existing servers to 1 after virtualization. There are obvious hardware savings to doing this as well as energy, maintenance and rack space savings.
Thanks to the wonderful world of competition the basic software tool that allows the virtualization of a server is available for free from both (and not by coincidence) VMware and Microsoft. This tool is called a hypervisor and the latest VMware hypervisor is ESXi – again, freely available.
The VMware world has moved way beyond the hypervisor itself – although that technology remains at the core. The main thrust of data center offerings by VMware is around central management of servers for reliability, energy savings and efficiency of operations. This is where some of the the way cool stuff happens – once you get jaded with 15 or 20 servers running on one box!
The main VMware product is Vsphere which provides centralized management of the virtual servers, running ESXi or ESX, under its control. Aside from really efficient central management and control, some of the impressive features available include Vmotion which allows you to migrate a server from one host machine to another on the fly -while the server is running – with no loss of accessibility! Other modules can monitor the load on a pool of servers and shift operating load so that some servers can be idle while others are fully utilized. Those servers that are not needed can also be powered down and restarted when needed.
I mentioned virtual desktops earlier and this I think is really exciting technology. “Exciting? ” you might say. While I am not excited by the average new technical gizmo, major shifts in how we provide computing capabilities to users, huge new markets and technical challenges are at the least very interesting. Running around and maintaining desktop PCs all through a big office is a huge waste of time and the whole PC interaction with its software and other devices is a a mess that as an engineer I have always felt was designed for kids, by kids! The “VMware View” approach to enterprise desktops, to reduce desktops to virtual machines – basically files on a central server that can be copied, saved, recreated, provisioned for new setups, etc. all in minutes, is a very powerful paradigm shift. That the approach is already migrating to smaller environments as well is a given. Big changes ahead and the change has great promise!