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Virtualization Takes Hold

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-04-11 Print this article Print

Less hardware is good, but immature technology isn't. With new products on the way, companies may find better methods to speed up virtual server deployments and cut costs.

Decades ago, programmers at IBM made virtual environments part of the mainframe operating system. Virtualization didn't crack the x86 server world, though, until the late 1990s—and it's been evolving ever since.

Server virtualization—creating multiple virtual machines, running various operating systems, on a single physical box—is booming. According to a February survey by Forrester Research, 40% of North American companies were virtualizing servers in 2006, up from 29% the previous year.

Benefits abound: Companies large and small have sped up server setup times and increased space in their data centers or server rooms. And the advantages were clear even before the software that enables server virtualization had matured.

Take Subaru of Indiana Automotive. In late 2003, the Japanese car maker's only U.S. plant was running out of server space, says Jamey Vester, a Subaru production control professional staff member.

Vester's answer was virtualization, which would allow him to multiply existing servers without adding new hardware. But back then, there were few options: VMware's offerings were becoming increasingly popular, Microsoft had just released Virtual Server and open-source Xen wasn't yet in circulation.

In 2004, Vester, like many early adopters, went with VMware's ESX Server, the first virtualization software with a hypervisor platform, where the software runs directly on top of the server hardware, controlling the operating system.

He, like most, was enticed by how the product sped up server deployment time. Provisioning servers, in Vester's world, was a six- to eight-week struggle with procurement, finance and vendors. With VMware, he and his team can create an image of the primary server and replicate that into a virtual machine.

That winnowed the process down to, at most, one business day; all he had to do was make a copy of an existing virtual machine and install it on the server using the VMware software. "With physical servers, you have to go through your whole purchasing bureaucracy," Vester says. "With virtual, you just write up the image and copy it over."

And virtualization cut the clutter in Subaru's server room. Back in 2003, Subaru ran 10 racks with 50 physical servers. Today, it has knocked that down to three racks and 17 boxes—running a total of 60 virtual machines.

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Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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