Multiplier effect

Virtualisation is currently the hottest trend in datacentres - but as yet, few regional enterprises seem to have taken the plunge. Imthishan Giado investigates how virtualisation, along with thin clients, is on course to transform enterprise computing.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  December 29, 2007

For regional IT managers and CIOs building or upgrading their datacentre, the virtualisation buzz has risen from a background hum to a full fledged roar, threatening to engulf all technology discussion.

CIOs may well ask if this scene is not all too familiar: vendors hype up to fever pitch a technology that's not quite ready for primetime, foist it onto overworked CIOs with bold unsubstantiated claims and then proudly trump the improved second generation when the first generation just about begins to pay for itself.

We see a lot of hype but few implementations. There will be a lot of things happening in the next six months, in terms of explaining what different virtualisation needs exist from a customer viewpoint.

Virtualisation presents even more of a quandary - the ability to reduce costs significantly, but at the cost of potentially increased complexity. Thin clients, the technology leading the charge into virtualisation, is equally contentious, having tried (and failed) in the late 1990s to achieve market success. So it is not unreasonable to expect regional CIOs to treat these new entrants with a certain jaundiced eye, borne out by the lack of announced implementations in the Midde East.

Basil Ayass, system sales specialist for MENA at Sun, says customers should not judge too quickly:"Ten or 15 years ago, the technology wasn't quite as integrated or as easy to manage and didn't deliver the efficiency of a non-virtualised environment. However, now I think that the technology is mature and it can deliver the same service level yet save you money and cost while implementing it."

Desmond Nair, Microsoft's server and tools business group manager, concurs: "Most organisations are seeing virtualisation as the next big thing or calling it the holy grail of IT. We absolutely agree: being able to utilise your resources for as much as they're worth is something that every organisation is striving towards."

Lost in the hype, says Ayass, is a precise definition of what virtualisation exactly is: "It's a tool that customers can use to simplify their IT computing environment. So it's not one software, one hardware - it's a methodology. When you virtualise, you consolidate, saving money, space and cost and make your IT computing infrastructure simpler."

With the ability of nearly of every piece or hardware to be virtualised, it's equally difficult for many to understand the advantages of virtualisation in each instance. Take one of software virtualisation's more flashy abilities: the ability to run multiple operating systems or versions simultaneously on a single piece of hardware. That's what most people want to talk about, says Aaron White, partner business manager for MENA at VMware, but companies should stick to the clear business benefits of making applications highly available.

"Virtualisation is just an enabler technology - the key thing is how you essentially manage it. Virtualisation should provide you business benefits such as a high availability and the ability to easily deploy new services. Say you're a telco - all telcos are looking to provide new services to their userbase, so it's important they can get to market very fast. What we're able to do is help people who take days to deploy a new server service bring that down to minutes, giving CIOs and IT managers a lot more agility from a datacentre point of view. Rather than say, ‘we've got this timeline to deploy these services', we can essentially make that a single mouseclick operation," he explains.

Ayass notes another benefit of virtualisation is the capability to take legacy applications and operating systems and run them on the latest hardware, leading to significant performance increases.

"Let's take the example of Windows 2000, which is no longer updated or supported by Microsoft. Instead of keeping it on old hardware taking up space in your datacentre using a lot of electricity, virtualisation allows you to take that application and place it in a new virtual environment, taking advantage of the latest hardware and technologies. The idea is to be transparent - the application and the OS doesn't realise that it's running on new hardware, it just gets a lot faster response. That's what virtualisation does - it tricks, it pretends.

"Intel and AMD have introduced quad core CPUs. These CPUs give you twice, four times the performance of the older CPUs, but are priced the same and most often less than the older technology. So you're getting a lot more computer power at a lot cheaper price - and that's why we need to use virtualisation to take advantage of the new technology," he says.

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