Powering up

Marketing jargon claims that virtualisation can empower your business, but often this fails to address the real needs of an organisation. Nathan Statz investigates the state of play amongst the industry’s big guns.

Tags: HypeHypervisorMicrosoft GulfRed Hat IncorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Powering up O’KIRWAN: Microsoft has changed the entire market and this is something they have proven able to do before.
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By  Nathan Statz Published  October 18, 2009 Arabian Computer News Logo

Hype and virtualisation have enjoyed an almost symbiotic relationship, and it’s become cliché to talk about cutting through the techno-lust to see whether it has any teeth.

These days the marketplace is well versed in the capabilities of the technology, but there are still many who think that the bark of vendors is stronger than the bite of their products.

One of the reasons for this is how much the virtualisation space has changed since Microsoft came onto the scene just two years ago. Much like any kind of entrance made by the Redmond-based giant, it involved much fanfaire and a large chunk of coin being thrown at research and development. The world’s largest software company started giving out its hypervisor – Hyper V – for free, with the business model relying on organisations paying for extra features to manage their systems.

The splash made by the Silicon Valley stalwart was experienced first hand by Paul O’Kirwan, IT director at Dubai Mercantile Exchange, as he oversaw the company’s virtualisation project in 2007.

“[Microsoft] has certainly changed the entire market in a sense, and they did this before with terminal server and with the virtual PC stuff, in that they have taken on something and made it part of the operating system and that completely changes the whole ballgame,” he says.

Dubai Mercantile Exchange is making extensive use of virtualisation, according to O’Kirwan, but not in the way that vendors are preaching for. “If you look at their marketing material it is all about server consolidation and reducing your hardware and all of that – running four, five or six virtual machines on one server, and that tends not to be the case. IT people are still very nervous about putting all of the applications on one piece of hardware because if it goes down you are losing multiple systems.”

“We [had the] original Microsoft Virtual Server available. We were using that in development extensively since we started in June of 2007. We deployed Windows 2008 and 2008 RC2, so we have virtual servers now in production on the 2008 platform.”

O’Kirwan explains that the main benefit of virtualisation for him is that it makes it quick and easy to deploy a new server with what is known as a bare-metal build. This is working purely with the base hypervisor install and not any of the expensive management tools.

“We just do a bare-metal build and then we have an image ready to go on our storage area network and we just blow that image onto our machine and then fire it up. It gives us a much better disaster recovery scenario for extra backup failover between sites very quickly,” he continues.

“I would obviously love to have some sort of automatic failover virtual machine manager. I know Microsoft are doing that and there are two versions and there is others coming in the pipe but I think if you are going down this way you have to make a choice of vendor. You either go VMware or Microsoft. While VMware have the better management tools, I think long-term Microsoft will catch up with them in that environment and it is worth the wait.”

The popularity of bare-metal installs is one of the side effects of giving away the hypervisor for free, but it is important to keep in mind that what is being given away is not exactly a new technology. O’Kirwan was effectively doing the same thing he is now on IBM mainframes 30 years ago, so while the hype train has rained down with expanded marketing budgets, it is not an entirely new concept. A perfect example of this is with return on investment (ROI) which is at the forefront of CIO minds these days and is also taking top billing on the marketing material from vendors.

“Vendors try and market it with the ROI stuff. In reality a lot of enterprises here will have, or already have, an investment in server hardware and what they are looking at is the two or three or four or five hours to build a machine. Installing the operating system is simple but when you add in a tall product, an Exchange box or SQL or something complicated like that, the man hours invested in building that box is phenomenal. If you can actually image it, your recovery time is much quicker in getting a new version or new server out like that. I’m not necessarily looking at it from an ROI perspective in terms of hardware investment, but more as a productivity tool,” says O’Kirwan.

War of words

One of the companies that were less than thrilled by Microsoft’s entrance into the market was VMware. The EMC-owned juggernaut has  campaigned tirelessly for the adoption of virtualisation and to make its name synonymous with the technology. The company behind Hyper V is working just as tenaciously to rain on VMware’s parade and the public eye has been dragged into the feud.

The most visible manoeuvre by Microsoft was the launch of a new website dedicated to comparing the company’s virtualisation products against VMware’s. Unsurprisingly the charts and graphs come down massively in favour of the home team, taking considerable pains to point out a price disparity between the two.

Rapid fire

Has virtualisation in the Middle East suffered as a result of the global recession?

VMware: “To the contrary, I see that more and more companies are willing to invest in virtualisation as the number one or two priority on most of their CIO lists. We’ve never had a sort of challenge trying to sell the value of virtualisation to C-level execs or our customers.”

Ghassan Darri, regional manager of VMware in the MENA region.

Redhat: “It’s a hard call to make, if you look at IDC numbers they are saying that server shipments are coming down, but if you look at it we are in a quiet period in terms of revenue. If you are least try to go past performance, we are still on track as we have promised, so I can’t call on whether it’s taking a recession hit or not.”

Anuj Kumar, GM of Red Hat Middle East.

Microsoft: “The momentum has been quite the opposite, and we have been fortunate that customers have trusted us more so than they have some of the other solutions.”

Ahmer Hasan, business group lead of server and tools at Microsoft Gulf.

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