Take, for example, USi customer CostumeSuperCenter.com LLC. In September and October, the CostumeSuperCenter.com site receives a surge of Web traffic from children looking for pirate and princess outfits and adults snatching up mature-themed garb. How does USi handle the sudden increase in traffic?
Previously, CostumeSuperCenter.com would have needed additional physical server space from Annapolis, Md.-based USi to prepare for peak season -- capacity that would go to waste 10 months of the year. But with server virtualization, USi can offer customers the ability to scale up and down as needed.
Thus far, USi is offering only virtualized servers running VMware, but according to Christina Schriver, director of advanced engineering for USi, the company will offer Sun Microsystems Solaris Containers and Citrix Systems Xen products this year. Why the expansion? Because it's what customers clamor for.
"We're not getting requests from customers for a particular virtualization platform," Schriver said, explaining that customers don't even see the virtualization layer when hosting their apps with USi. They just see applications running as they should. "But we are getting requests from clients that can best be supported by other [virtualization] vendors."
Some of USi's customers, for example, have asked USi to host Solaris running on Sparc processors, whereas VMware can handle Solaris on only x86 processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Intel Corp.. Schriver explained that in many cases, customers want these options because they already have applications running on Solaris and Sparc and don't want to port them to x86 Solaris or another operating system.
Xen's virtualization offering is a possibility for USi, but the company is at an earlier stage with Solaris Containers, according to Schriver. USi has clients interested in a Xen offering, particularly independent software vendors (ISVs) seeking a less expensive option than VMware. But at this point, USi has determined that "the cost would not be significantly reduced" compared with VMware because of support costs.
"For the Xen operating platform, we have not fully productized that environment," she said. "We are still in the evaluation stage to see what the benefits are for Xen versus the VMware environment."Heterogeneity breeds complexity
By expanding its virtualization offerings, USi is going the way of many companies: exploring different server virtualization platforms and techniques, where the end result is the prospect of running more than one. In a TechTarget Data Center Purchasing Intentions survey last year, only 21% of respondents had no plans for server virtualization in 2007. Meanwhile, respondents listed 10 different kinds of server virtualization that they have used in the past, from mainframe partitions to VMware.
There is one good bet out there regarding virtualization, said Stephen Elliot, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC Corp.. It's probably going to get more complex.
"If you look out three years, most enterprises will have more than one hypervisor deployed," he said. "And heterogeneity breeds complexity."