Virtual x86 hardware
virtualisation works reasonably well, but any software based approach has limitations
in terms of performance and scalability. A hardware implementation is always
superior. That is why Intel and AMD's efforts to bring hardware virtualisation
to the x86 platform is so important. Pentium 4 desktop CPUs featuring this technology
are out and Intel's Xeon and Itanium processors supporting a variant of this
technology will soon follow. AMD's promised to roll out hardware virtualisation
across all its platformsdesktop, mobile and servers.This will lead to
a surge in enterprises adopting virtualisation on x86 platforms for non-mission-critical
applications. by Anil Patrick R
x86 platforms have moved up from the desktop to being full-fledged competition
in the SMB and non-mission-critical server space. Performance improvements,
better price/performance and dependability have all contributed to this growth.
As the use of x86 server hardware has grown, underutilisation has become an
issue and the demand for server virtualisation has risen.
Man Financial India
Server virtualisation is the technology that permits multiple
operating systems to run on an x86 server simultaneously. The beauty of this
approach is that each operating system will act as a distinct server by itself
with its own virtually distinct set of resources such as processing, memory,
networking, and storage capabilities. This is achieved by using a virtualisation
layer generally known as hypervisor on top of the server hardware.
Virtualisation provides multiple benefits for server consolidation,
better resource management, and running applications across multiple OSs. Although
server virtualisation is yet to mature, it will have a good future with its
ability to run multiple OSs. Developers will find this technology useful,
says Manoj Chandiramani, Vice President, Man Financial India.
This helps enterprises maximise the benefits that can be derived from a single
server, while avoiding underutilisation. x86 virtualisation software has also
started supporting x86-64 architectures which provide even more pros for the
technology. Virtualisation on x86 has been picking up, says Naveen
Mishra, Senior Analyst, Enterprise Systems Research, Gartner India.
Bull Market Predicted For Virtualisation
IDCs predictions for 2006 highlight the growth of server virtualisation.
According to the report, more than 2.1 million virtual servers will be deployed
globally during 2006. This will exceed 20 percent of all physical and virtual
server deployments for the first time.
The growing trend of virtualisation on the x86 platform is also substantiated
by Gartners top ten trends and predictions for 2006. According to the
report, virtualisation will drive the need for Real Time Infrastructure
(RTI) in the APAC region. To cope with the increasing volume and velocity of
information, organisations will need to adopt RTI which relies extensively on
virtualisation. The technology can improve IT resource utilisation and increase
flexibility in adapting to changing requirements and workload. With the addition
of service-level, policy-based automation, virtualisation leads to RTI, according
However, despite the excitement surrounding server virtualisation, dividing
a servers capabilities into virtually separate machines each with dedicated
resources is a concept that has been toyed with for many years now. Server virtualisation
is not a new concept as such. The box: Old wine, new bottle details how server
virtualisation has evolved from its initial inception in the late 1960s.
Getting To The Root
There are two types of virtualisation at presentthe
'bare metal' approach followed by virtual software loaded on top of an
The more promising CPU-assisted server virtualisation is still under development
and ought to be released soon
So what does virtualisation on the x86 platform entail? There
are two types of virtualisation at presentthe bare metal approach
followed by virtual software loaded on top of an operating system. The more
promising CPU-assisted server virtualisation is still under development and
ought to be released soon.
The best example of bare metal virtualisation is VMware ESX Server followed
by Xen. In this approach, the virtualisation software creates a virtualisation
layer or environment on top of the hardware (bare metal). This is one of the
best and lightest (in terms of resource utilisation optimisation) virtualisation
methods available for the x86 platform at present.
Next come virtualisation solutions which are run on top of an existing OS. Being
on top of an OS demands more resources. So this approach is still used in the
VMware GSX Servers case more for test and development environments than
server applications. VMware GSX Server can run on top of Windows or Linux. Microsofts
Virtual Server 2005 can run only on top of Microsoft Windows Server 2005. This
approach can create problems especially in the case of Microsoft Virtual Server
2005 since existing OSs like Windows Server 2000 will have to be upgraded to
Windows Server 2003. This can be a sizeable investment, says Chandiramani.
CPU-assisted virtualisation is still under development and
spearheaded by AMD (Pacifica) and Intel (VT). This approach will enable full-fledged
use of the x86 architecture for virtualisation. Moving forward we will
see virtualisation engines in the processor itself on AMD and Intel platforms.
2006 will be the year when virtualisation on x86 takes off. Despite that, VMware
usage is not likely to go down because of the benefits that it provides,
|Developed in the early 1970s to improve utilisation
on mainframe platforms, virtualisation took a beating during the 1980s when
personal computers made their presence felt. The limited capabilities of
personal computers made it irrelevant at that time to port virtualisation
down to that level. This was followed by a long stretch of inaction wherein
virtualisation was limited to the RISC platform (Notably IBM, HP, Sun and
SGI boxes). While IBM used logical-level virtualisation methods, HP and
Sun used hard-wired virtualisation methods for their RISC platforms.
However, it was not until the late 1990s that virtualisation
was developed for the x86 platform by VMware. The virtualisation
space is a big driver for the x86 platform. On this front, VMware is leading
the market at present, says T Mohan Doss, Director, Volume Business,
ASEAN & India, Sun Microsystems.
Today there are other major competitors in the field
including Microsofts Virtual Server 2005, Suns Solaris containers
on the Solaris 10 OS and XenSources open source Xen virtualisation
software. These solutions can run multiple (and different) OSs on the
same server with capability to virtually provision distinct resources
for functions such as processing, memory, and storage.
However, all these methods still rely on software-based
virtualisation mechanisms rather than hardware-based methods at the processor
level. At best, they can be defined as partial virtualisation since the
x86 platform does not inherently allow virtualisation software to use
the processors capabilities entirely. Things are changing on this
front though with AMDs Pacifica and Intels Virtualisation
Technology (VT) [née Vanderpool] initiatives to enable virtualisation
products to make full use of the x86 architecture. Vanderpool is already
out on the desktop and when you consider that most servers
sold in this country are nothing more than togged up Pentium 4 PCs, that
is quite significant. Once Intel moves this technology onto the Xeon,
and AMD releases its own technology, things will heat up on the x86 hardware
Although server virtualisation is catching up, its use
is limited to non-mission-critical applications at present. The biggest
concern that is limitingmission-critical application deployment on this
front is the single point of failure aspect as well as the current high
prices of server virtualisation software
Although server virtualisation is catching up, its use is
limited to non-mission-critical applications at present. The biggest concern
that is limiting mission-critical application deployment on this front is the
single point of failure aspect as well as the current high prices of server
When multiple applications are deployed on a single server, chances of having
a single point of failure are increased multi-fold. This can be deadly for verticals
like BFSI and telecom. This can be a big issue in terms of criticality,
especially on the financial front, says Chandiramani.
The next issue is that there is no common standard for hypervisors. However,
major vendors (hardware and software) are still working together to reach a
consensus and this should be sorted out soon.
Despite these issues, the outlook is still largely optimistic
for x86 server virtualisation. When application deployment is carefully evaluated
and executed properly, virtualisation is still a boon for SMBs and large enterprises
for consolidation of mission-critical applications. Deploying virtualisation
is not a problem but application characteristics have to be evaluated carefully
for an optimal implementation, says Doss.