Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Virtualisation in the server space

Recently I've had the chance to view VMWare ( and HP's ( entries in the virtualisation market - through VMWare's ESXi server and HP's Blade servers and SAN systems. Prior to this presentation I'd only looked into virtualisation a little bit, concerns for server redundancy and the like preventing me from spending a lot of time looking into it, and also, the size and scope of the organisation I work for is insufficient for such things - or so I had thought.

I have about 10 servers under my direct control and of these, 6 could be virtualised. Thinking about it going forward, in 3 to 5 years when these servers are due for replacement, buying 2 servers and a small SAN will cost less than the 6 new servers and provide the same services. At the end of the day, I think that's what it is all about - same services (or better), with uptime being up in the 5 nines range and cost-effective hardware/software. I've been a fan of VMWare's virtualisation stuff for several years, solely through the VMWare desktop range. Running multiple operating systems and applications on a single development machine was lots of fun. Back in the day (5 odd years ago) RAM was pricey and so was disk space so the VM's were pretty little.

Now you can run whole server instances in a file and then slip that file between servers depending on load requirements and whatever other fancy things you want to do - such as bringing one physical server down for updates and maintaining all your VM's on another server. Absolutely amazing stuff - especially when you combine it with blade technology and have dozens of servers sharing one big SAN all in the same rackspace. Truly incredible. Pretty complicated too I think as well, remembering where everything is going.

The new Blade servers from HP look very impressive too - they've done a lot of work on cooling and on cabling and everything is redundant with backup from at least one module exactly the same. Of course, when I saw those big fancy Blade servers I thought to myself - why virtualise? You could have a netboot install of a server ready to rock at a moment's notice and be back up and running in a very short time, especially if you combine the server with Microsoft's ASR technology and tape backup. There is so much chance for overkill it's every enterprise geek's wet dream. There were quite a few geeks at the presentation that looked like they were in their happy place that's for sure.

The most important thing I took away from it all was that virtualisation in the server space has come a long way since I last looked into it and the offerings from both VMWare and HP are quite spectacular. Given my quite low funds though - I'm now looking into Linux's XEN virtualisation. If you're more interested in this (any virtualisation for that matter) there is a lot of stuff on the interwebs. Mind you don't clog up your tubes! :-)

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