Q&A: Virtualization 2.0

Where virtualization is headed, and what problems (and solutions) lie ahead for IT.

Virtualization has long been a popular technology in the data center. As technologies have changed, so, too, has virtualization, incorporating newer trends such as cloud computing. To learn more about virtualization 2.0, we talked to Eric Courville, COO and founder of VM6 Software, a developer of an all-in-one IT virtualization infrastructure solution.

Enterprise Strategies: How has virtualization changed over the last 5 years?

Eric Courville: Virtualization initially started as a solution for large data centers to deploy server consolidation. By combining high-end data center assets such as shared storage, high-performance networks and virtualization software, large data centers with several hundred servers benefited from this technology because they had large economies of scale. In the 1990s, server virtualization was introduced and today it is more accessible for enterprises of all sizes. Virtualization technology is evolving to incorporate the cloud.

Why has virtualization never been considered appropriate for smaller environments? Large organizations could afford modular solutions composed of high-end equipment and had multiple, specialized IT resources to assemble the technology. Smaller organizations, on the other hand, didn’t have the extended skilled IT staff on-site and needed fully integrated and simple solutions that were specifically tailored for their needs, which were different from the needs of the large data center. Also, the cost of the initial basic required infrastructure has been too expensive for the budget of smaller environments.

What is "virtualization 2.0" and what is its focus?

Virtualization 2.0 extends the usage and adoption of the first wave of virtualization by offering virtualization solutions that are more integrated, easier to use, and more accessible to a wider range of environments.

What is the current benefit of virtualization 2.0 for SMBs?

For the SMB, virtualization offers a flexible infrastructure that significantly simplifies day-to-day operations by allowing existing applications to quickly and easily move to new hardware while still preserving the investment the customer has made in previous maintenance updates. Virtualization 2.0 provides a flexible infrastructure, positioning the SMB for growth in a much more predictable way, and it reduces risk and cost while providing higher value and a greater return on investment. Over all, virtualization 2.0 offers SMBs efficiency and cost reduction, simplified management and maintenance, and improved availability and disaster recovery.

What are the challenges that SMBs are facing with virtual infrastructures?

Despite its many uncontested benefits, virtualization also presents a number of challenges that SMBs will face as they consider moving from a physical to a virtualized environment. The first is a requirement of shared storage. Before virtual servers and virtual desktops can freely move between different hardware platforms, they must have common access to shared storage. They rely on shared storage to transfer the running state of workloads between physical servers. This is generally accomplished by replacing direct-attached disks with storage area networks (SANs) that interconnect to multiple servers.

Additionally, SMBs must avoid putting all their eggs in one virtual basket, since storage disruptions and slowdowns are far more crippling in the virtual world than in the physical one. Finally, SMBs must beware of unforeseen project costs. When organizations launch server or desktop virtualization projects, they are often surprised to find that the anticipated savings are consumed by a significant upfront investment in project management costs and the required shared-storage infrastructure. Much of the additional cost stems from the higher availability and performance requirements of centralized operations, particularly when they entail replacing existing, direct-attach disks with new, high-end storage devices and separately-priced SAN features.

What are the options for an SMB that wants to leverage virtualization?

Current options for the SMB that wants to leverage virtualization are:

  • Use conventional virtualization and spend large amounts for SAN, network switches, multiple servers, virtualization software, management software, and integration services
  • Move their environment into the cloud and spend money on high bandwidth or WAN optimization solutions and encounter large project costs, yet still have dependency on the bandwidth and latency for users’ experiences while also creating a single point of failure (the network).
  • Use a fully integrated solution tailored for smaller and distributed environments and get all the benefits of virtualization, but at a lower cost, with an easier-to-manage environment and no single point of failure.

How does this also affect the company's IT staff?

Traditional virtualization solutions are tailored for the large data center and assume a wide range of expertise available in house. These solutions are not tailored for the reality of the SMB that has a limited staff and expertise available. New products tailored to the SMB take into account the limited resources available and offer a fully integrated solution that is easy to implement and administer.

Can you give an example of an SMB organization that has benefited from virtualization?

JLR Reserche collects, compiles, and distributes real estate transactions published at the Land Registry of Quebec. JLR’s transactional Web site enables its subscribers to get online access to transactions published at the Land Registry Office of Québec. In 2009, JLR completed an integration of more than 85 percent of properties in the U.S., making it one of the largest distributors of real estate data in Canada.

JLR’s IT infrastructure was depreciating and running on cheap clone computers and servers. Its business was growing fast and it needed an IT infrastructure that could grow as well, which its current infrastructure did not allow. The organization sought a virtualization solution for consolidation and high availability. JLR selected VM6 VMex because it supports shared storage consolidation, sever virtualization, and simple management and built-in monitoring in one solution. JLR didn’t need to hire new staff with more expertise, and because it was already running Windows Server 2008, it was able to leverage Hyper-V and the staff already on hand. At a price point that was one-third the price of VMware, VM6 VMex allowed JLR to deploy enterprise class virtualization tailored for the SMB and save money.

What are the biggest mistakes SMBs make when employing virtualization? What best practices can you suggest to avoid these?

SMBs often think they are limited to selecting solutions that have been designed more for large enterprises rather than being tailored to the economical and operational requirements of an SMB. By doing more research, however, SMBs will notice that there are options available that are more tailored to their needs. When talking to vendors, SMBs should select a fully integrated and scalable virtualization solution with the ability to remove shared storage-related dependencies. SMBs must also consider high availability as a minimum requirement when implementing virtualization to avoid the risk of data loss. Additionally, SMBs in particular should remember to find virtualization solutions that don’t add more complexity to their environments.

What role does VM6 Software play in the virtualization market?

VM6 Software provides a scalable, all-in-one IT infrastructure software solution designed to offer all the benefits of virtualization without the associated complexity and costs. VM6 Software's virtualization management solution incorporates virtual shared storage, advanced clustering, federated desktop virtualization, and integrated management and monitoring in one product. Our technology leverages Microsoft Hyper-V to create a single solution for provisioning, consolidating, managing, and protecting all workloads without the need for expensive hardware or storage area networks (SANs). VM6 Software’s solution, VM6 VMex, typically provides 70 percent lower total cost of ownership over three years when compared to traditional virtualization solutions.