In the first post of this series, we looked at the technology adoption life cycle, seven value propositions for market adoption of virtualization, five classes of computing and the maturity of virtualization in mainframe computers.
Over the last several years, virtual machines have seen major adoption in the commodity compute server market. I think it would be safe to say that it is approaching its peak, well along the early adopter phase. There are still enough challenges in the deployment applications and services on virtual machines to keep many late adopters away from it for now, at least for production deployment.
The strong market adoption has been primarily due to the cost savings associated with server consolidation. One business application running on one physical server used to make sense; the cost of software licenses exceeded the cost of a server in many cases, so the easiest thing to do was purchase a server recommended by the software vendor, and everything was OK. The hardware/software combination was supported by the vendor, so if there were any problems, it was easy to find some one to take ownership to solve them. As businesses grew, server closets became server rooms, and then the server rooms became data centers. The cost of IT infrastructure was now a significant line item to come under the scrutiny of the CFO. Although the per server capital acquisition cost was in many cases declining, the costs of administrating, housing and powering these systems was growing. It soon became apparent that operating costs exceeded capital costs for IT. Then it was discovered that a large proportion of the deployed servers were largely idling; not all IT services are always running and not all running services always run at capacity; on average only 20% of server capacity was utilized. Depending on the performance requirements, the use of virtual machines would allow at least a 10 to 1 concentration. Server performance continued to increase; hardware support for virtualization from AMD and Intel chips reduced the performance penalty; multi-core processors and multi-socket servers further increased the capacity to host more VMs. The latest servers today can host hundreds of VMs without being overloaded.
Fewer servers to provide the same amount of IT services, led to fewer IT staff, smaller server rooms and reduced power consumption. In many data centers the energy consumption of the server infrastructure exceeds the energy consumption of the servers themselves (power consumed by cooling systems, and power loss though power conversion and distribution are the largest factors).
The value proposition of isolation was the reason there originally was a single application or IT service per server. Thus the property of isolation must be maintained when services are deployed in virtual machines. Although the infrastructure costs become significantly lower per service, the business drivers for deployment of the service in the first place must still meet all the attributes for performance and availability.
A study by VMware identified protection as a key value proposition for small and medium businesses. Most businesses are careful to back-up critical data. What can be harder to back-up is the context of that data, the versions of software and operating system related to that data, as well as configuration settings. With a virtual machine these are all encapsulated in the virtual machine file which can be easily replicated, and relaunched on another server if necessary.
These three, consolidation, isolation and protection are largely responsible for the value propositions which had driven the recent rapid adoption of virtual machine technology into the commodity server market. With the current wave of interest in cloud computing, portability will become an important value proposition. Cloud computing uses virtualization technology to allow an application or service to run “out there” in the cloud.
I believe as organizations mature their IT service management processes, the value propositions of rapid deployment and security will become a larger part of the rationale for utilization of virtual machine technology.
We’ll take a look at virtual machines on the desktop in the next blog post.