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Beware of the virtualization hype cycle

As virtualization becomes more prevalent, the term is turning into a marketing buzzword as vendors seek to cash in on this growing technology. In this tip, an expert explains what the hype around virtualization is and how IT pros can avoid it.

Virtualization has become a buzzword, and vendors are rushing to brand every product as "virtualization-ready." In this tip, I'll cover how to cut through the onslaught of hype from vendors and learn what your virtualized infrastructure really needs.

What is the "virtualization-ready" hype?
Many industry groups and vendors, both in and out of IT, brand their products as "ready" for something. In IT, several products say they are Vista-ready or Wi-Fi-ready. But we all know that these labels are, for the most part, extraneous. For example, if my toaster is wi-fi-ready does it really mean that much? As there are so many technical specifications surrounding compatibility, just because something is ready doesn't tell you whether or not it's compatible.

As virtualization becomes more and more of a marketing buzzword, I'm afraid that this trend is beginning to apply to virtualization products as well. Vendors of hardware, software and services are rushing to label their products as virtualization-ready in one form or another.

Is your server virtualization-ready? How about your backup application? Your desktop PC? Your anti-virus software? Your workgroup printer? Your Apple iPhone? Are they all virtualization-ready? As I've laid on the sarcasm fairly thick, I'll digress now and discuss some serious points.

Who are the vendors pushing the virtualization hype?
I don't want to label specific vendors as some of these products have yet to be released, so I'll instead just talk in general terms. Of late, I have seen a number of vendors tout their products as "updated-for-virtualization" or the new "virtualization edition". This is especially true with VMware and Microsoft's big virtualization launch just around the corner.

For example, hardware manufacturers are offering new blades or servers that are souped-up with more RAM and increased performance that are meant to be used for virtualization. Thin client hardware manufacturers are attending virtualization trade shows and pushing their thin client devices saying that they're ready for VDI. Software firewall vendors are offering software appliances that allow their firewall to be run in a virtualized infrastructure and calling it the virtualization edition. Consulting companies everywhere are saying that they will help you make your data center green.

When I intially saw vendors doing this, I was impressed that they were being gung ho and really jumping on the bandwagon. However, as I have seen more and more traditional vendors launching their virtualization-ready products, I have begun to notice a disturbing trend. Many of these vendors have taken a product that has been on the market for a while, tweaked it for a virtualized environment and launched a virtualization edition line of products. I often wonder if there is any more to this than a sticker on the front that says virtualization-ready.

That being said though, there certainly are some products that DO need to be enhanced in order to understand and work with virtualized environments.

Products that need to be virtualization-ready
There are many products out there that do need to be enhanced in order to work with virtualized environments effectively. They include:

  • Network management and monitoring software products

  • Performance management software products

  • Security auditing software products

As an example, let's say that you have VMware's Infrastructure Suite. It comes with many different products, but could use some additional 3rd party products in my opinion. You will likely want to add:

  • A backup option that complements VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) and offers a graphical interface with scheduling and differential backups

  • An historical performance monitoring application that complements VMware's basic real-time performance monitoring graphs

  • A reporting and inventory application that understands your virtualized environment and can produce professional reports about the virtualized infrastructure.

All of these products, obviously, must understand the virtual infrastructure and "be ready" for it. Still, there are other products that, in my opinion, DON'T need to know anything about virtualization to do their job.

Products that don't need to be virtualization-ready
Does your PC need to be virtualization-ready? What about your anti-virus software? Perhaps I am cynical and short-sighted, but I don't see the need for several products to be virtualization-ready. For example, all new servers have CPU processors that support virtualization (Intel VT or AMD-V chipsets) and memory that supports nested page tables. Do those vendors need to go to virtualization trade shows and talk to system admins about how their products are virtualization-ready? Absolutely not because these are standard server features.

Should backup software vendors tout that their products are virtualization-ready because they can backup virtual guest operating systems? Again, the answer is no because that label could mean nothing to you.

Be cautious about the virtualization hype machine
Let's face it: With virtualization becoming more and more of a marketing buzzword, the virtualization marketplace has become increasingly confusing. So what do I advise virtualization system admins and IT Managers to do?

As a virtualization admin or an IT Manager, I advise caution when considering any new products that tout a virtualization feature. This can mean many things to many vendors. Just because you utilize virtualization and a vendor offers a virtualization edition, it doesn't mean that that special edition will be of any help. A few hypothetical situations include:

  • A vendor's virtualization edition only works with Citrix XenServer, only you don't use Xen.

  • The vendor's software is now supported when run in a virtual guest OS (even though it worked fine before)

  • Their product works with VDI (and you don't have VDI implemented in your infrastructure)

  • Their backup product is compatible with VMware's VCB (and you use Hyper-V)

  • Their storage array can store virtual hard disks (as can all the rest)

Conclusion
Unfortunately for IT Pros like you and I, the term virtualization has become a marketing buzzword and the virtualization market is getting increasingly crowded. This causes a lot of confusion when talking to vendors and trying to sift through the virtualization hype. In the end, when a vendor says that their product is virtualization-ready (or something along those lines), take it with a huge grain of salt and respond with, "That means nothing to me. Show me how it will help me in MY environment."

Author's note: I am half-heartedly considering starting an exclusive group called the virtualization-ready alliance where vendors pay big bucks to earn a sticker and lapel pin that says that their products are certified "virtualization-ready from the virtualization alliance." If you have big bucks and want to start this group, or would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact me.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Davis (CCIE #9369, VCP, CWNA, MCSE, CISSP, Linux+, CEH) is the Director of Infrastructure at Train Signal, Inc. He has written hundreds of articles and six video training courses – including the Train Signal VMware ESX Server video training series. His websites are Happy Router.com and VMwareVideos.com.

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