X86 Virtualization is a key enabler for business; virtualization allows you to get more computing done with less hardware. Realizing the full advantages of these technologies can however be very costly. The most beneficial and sought-after features are also often the most expensive. Every market experiences commoditization over time, and x86 is no exception. Once a costly technology unavailable to any excepting the largest enterprises, the bare essentials are today available as free type 1 hypervisors. Fast, simple, and compact, these free hypervisors can virtualize multiple operating systems on a single piece of hardware, but not much else.
If you are interested in virtualization for any reason other than condensing multiple physical servers into a smaller footprint, you are going to need to purchase the management tools if you want to do things properly. Each vendor's unique feature set [NB: PDF link] and price points ensure a market rife with competition. One of the most impressive features of any virtualization stack is the ability to move a virtual machine (VM) from one physical server to another without interruption. While this feature may at first seem to be a novelty, it is absolutely critical for the smooth operations and regular maintenance of even small virtual environments. Taking a server down for maintenance becomes a laborious task when each VM must be manually shut down, migrated, and then manually turned back on. Virtual servers can hold dozens, sometimes hundreds, of individual VMs. The total storage footprint of a server’s VMs is often measured in terabytes. Large VMs can take hours to move across the network. Manually moving this large volume of information from system to system will ensure that regular maintenance is associated with significant downtime.
Organizations utilizing Storage Area Networks (SANs) can speed up migration of VMs. Yet without management tools, reconnecting multiple VMs will still make for noticeable downtime. Management tools remove the necessity; they can move many and huge VMs from system to system without interruption. They can do so in response to external triggers, or on a pre-defined schedule. Backups are another vital area where the right management feature set can save administrator time.
Proper management tools can perform live backups of a VM; literally a snapshot in time. It is as though the hypervisor were capable of taking Ghost images of each virtual machine it hosts without having to install or configure a client inside the guest operating systems. Set a schedule, select a storage point, and backups take care of themselves. Simple. Without these management tools, systems administrators must treat each VM as though it were a distinct physical server. Each VM must be configured; its backup solution licensed, and the success of its backups monitored all completely independently. These features are only the most basic examples of the critical role that management tools play in insuring the realization of efficiency gains when employing virtualization. Free hypervisors exist, but their use will require as much (or more) administrator time than an equal number of physical servers. In part two, we’ll be looking a bit deeper into this topic, so if you have any questions or comments for us to bear in mind, please leave a comment below or check out our virtualization solutions here.