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Golden's Rules: Virtualization vendors' promises and slugfest

Capacity problems are causing sleepless nights for data center managers, but they have high hopes that virtualization will cure their insomnia. At a recent conference about both subjects, however, arguments between virtualization vendors' reps and Microsoft's plans for a new direction kept everyone wide awake.

Recently I spoke at a Silicon Valley Data Center Conference sponsored by data center consulting firm Teladata....

Since virtualization was the key topic, the house was packed. And since Teladata have managed some huge data center build-outs and has a client list of Silicon Valley giants, the audience was top-notch, dominated by real down-and-dirty data center managers.

The capacity-constrained data center story is real, not the product of virtualization vendor hype. Half of the attendees in my workshops said their data centers were maxed out. They were riveted by descriptions of how virtualization could allow them to yank large numbers of machines out of their server farms, freeing up space for additional computing initiatives.

The power problem

Data center managers cited power costs as a major problem, too. Virtualization's promise of power reduction met with approval, especially because California power provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., was on hand to describe its new virtualization rebate program.

PG&E is offering rebates of up to 50% of the cost of moving to virtualization, based on yearly energy savings. The limits to this program have just been raised to $4 million, meaning that it will support a significant infrastructure project. Best of all, businesses get the check immediately, even though the savings trickle in over a year.

Sharp words fly between vendors

Virtualization vendors spoke at the seminar too, some raising their voices. VMware marketing director Eric Horschman criticized XenSource for requiring users to modify guest operating systems in order to run on the XenSource hypervisor. He also mildly criticized Microsoft for not fully supporting Windows as a guest OS (operating system) on VMware's product.

CTO Simon Crosby responded on Microsoft's behalf by asking why Microsoft should make an effort to support Windows on VMware when VMware already patches the OS at runtime in order to work with the VMware product. Crosby then asked why VMware continues to raise the need for modification as a drawback to the Xen product, since the vast majority of virtualization projects are implemented on virtualization-enabled hardware which negates the requirement for modified guest operating systems.

Although it was a pleasure to see real nostrils-flared discussions, as they provide an opportunity to really gauge the differences between the products, order was restored and handshakes were exchanged by the end of the session.

Microsoft announces Viridian

In my opinion, this is a big switch for Microsoft, indicating a move away from its one-machine, one- operating system paradigm. Could Microsoft be joining the movement toward operating systems being an artifact of application choice? Can Microsoft support users' freedom of choice, let the operating system be dictated by the application, allow users to simply run the desired OS in a virtualized environment? If so, this is a dramatic development, one that heralds a new type of computing that will enormously benefit users.

By the end of the conference it was clear. Virtualization really addresses real-world issues: space, energy costs, capital expenses. The bottom line? Virtualization is a better mousetrap with enormous potential for tangible benefits.

In a less inflammatory but equally invigorating presentation, Microsoft's data center technology program manager Jeff Woolsey said high-performance virtualization will be a native part of Microsoft's OS. Woolsey also announced that a new hypervisor-based virtualization platform, Viridian, is in the works. (Microsoft will continue to support Virtual Server, by the way.)

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