Virtualization technologies explained

Virtualization technologies are becoming an integral part of the management and maintenance of IT environments. Learn how virtualization technologies allow IT administrators to better utilize their hardware and simplify their environments. Once you've mastered virtualization technologies in general, move on to server, storage and application virtualization on our sister sites.

By Stephen J. Bigelow, Senior Technology Writer

Your customers rely on applications to handle their everyday business, servers to process those applications, and storage to retain and protect the data needed by those applications and servers. As IT environments grow, these three elements become even more costly to buy, cumbersome to manage and difficult to maintain. Virtualization technologies have emerged as a means to mitigate the growth in IT, allowing businesses to consolidate their IT resources, improve resource utilization and simplify management. This article explains the concepts of virtualization in general and explores the specific attributes of server virtualization, storage virtualization and application virtualization.

What is virtualization and why is it important?

Software and hardware are traditionally intertwined and inseparable from one another. For example, a program (a "processing workload") might run on a particular processor and utilize a specific range of physical memory on the host computer, reside on a specific disk drive and communicate using specific I/O ports. This can easily result in resource conflicts and performance issues when multiple workloads contend for the same physical resources. Virtualization, in simplest terms, breaks this relationship between the physical and the logical by creating a layer of abstraction between a workload and its underlying hardware.

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Storage virtualization solutions explained

Application virtualization solutions explained

Server virtualization explained

Virtualization technologies create flexibility by decoupling IT workloads from the hardware and making it possible to aggregate and move workloads to better utilize existing hardware. For example, virtualization allows multiple workloads to run on the same hardware platform without contention. Conversely, virtualization technologies allow hardware aggregation to better accommodate workloads. Workloads can be moved without disruption between hardware resources, independent of the hardware itself. For example, a workload may be moved seamlessly to a virtual machine on a different hardware system so that the first system can be brought offline for maintenance or replacement.

Workload aggregation often reduces hardware requirements and costs for the customer, though this is usually regarded as an ancillary benefit. "The real reason that companies are turning to virtualization centers around business agility -- the ability to make the things we run on computer hardware easier to work with, more versatile, more portable, more secure," said Scott Gorcester, president of Moose Logic, a solution provider headquartered in Bothell, Wash. "And we can deliver those benefits while lowering the overall cost over time."

What are the channel opportunities and future trends in virtualization technologies?

Solution providers agree that virtualization technologies provide enormous business opportunities. Customers need help with lowering costs, improving resource utilization, simplifying management and adding flexibility to make business more versatile and resilient. "Server and storage virtualization is here," Gorcester said. "It's into the small business, the enterprise -- it's popping up all over."

Solution providers can find significant revenue opportunities in the consulting, planning, deployment and management of a virtualization project. Customers may hesitate to initiate virtualization projects because of the unknown consequences of a transition. You can help to ease this trepidation through training and a phased approach to deployment that minimizes your customer's initial risk and cost and lets them first see the benefits of virtualization on a small scale. Solution providers can also find added revenue through post-deployment management and support opportunities.

Some solution providers see virtualization as a technology that can enable future projects that might otherwise be impractical for a customer. For example, a customer might reject a proposal to deploy a new business application because they don't want to fund or manage another physical server. But deploying server virtualization might allow the new application to operate on existing physical platforms, making the project far more appealing and acceptable to your customer.

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