Virtualization 101: What Is Virtualization? (Do I have to wear those VR Goggles???)

The basics of server virtualization are explained for those who may not be 100% familiar with the technology.

What words come to mind when you hear the term Virtualization? Some people may think of the late 80s and 90s when Virtual Reality was a big buzzword and those humongous VR goggles allowed us to see 3-D representations of images and interact with them almost as if they were 100% real.  So, when you hear an IT Geek Professional talk about Server Virtualization, is it the same thing? Well, kind of, but we’ll get back to that in a second.

First, I want to present a (hopefully) simple metaphor that will explain what server virtualization is and how it is beneficial to businesses.

Let’s think of a server as a classroom, and the Intel or AMD processor in the server is the classroom’s teacher.   You can think of your server’s installation of Windows as a Student (Yes, I know we can virtualize other OS’s, but I’ll stick with Windows for now).

Before server virtualization, this classroom and teacher could only accommodate one student at a time. If there were other students in the classroom, the teacher would need for the rest of them to be asleep while he or she assists one student.

As you can imagine, this makes for very inefficient learning and teacher utilization (although, I don’t think the teachers would mind).  For all the students to get equal attention, the school would have to build and staff a classroom for each student. This is not possible or practical in any situation. However, this is how businesses operated Open Systems solutions in their Data Centers for decades!!! (yes, I know that Data Centers always had Mainframes, but they do not run Windows.  Who knows? maybe some day, they will. <*Shock*> Blasphemy? yes, I know 😉 ).

Anyway, you can think of Server Virtualization as a new teaching methodology where the teacher can now handle multiple students simultaneously.  Some students may be more energetic than others and require more of the teacher’s time.  In those cases, the teacher would be assigned less students overall to give adequate attention to the students who need more from him\her.

There are many other aspects of server virtualization that we can discuss using this metaphor, but I will save them for another time.  The bottomline is that businesses realize significant reductions in Capital Expenditures (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditures (OPEX) by virtualizing their servers and running them concurrently on powerful machines.

Each of these powerful servers are capable of efficiently handling up to 10, or more, virtual servers depending on the virtualization vendor, how the virtual servers are tuned, and which applications are running.  Thus, CAPEX and OPEX savings come in the form of less frequent hardware acquisitions, reductions in power consumption, reductions in Data Center floor space usage, reduced server maintenance, costs, etc.

Now, getting back to the earlier part of this article, how does Server Virtualization resemble Virtual Reality? Well, one powerful server presents virtual representations of multiple servers simultaneously to the users.  As the users access each server, it seems as if they are using a completely separate physical box.  So, these Virtual Machines look and act as if they are 100% real, just like the virtual objects in the old VR systems.

How does server virtualization technology accomplish all this magic?  That’s a topic for another blog post.

Until then, Happy New Year from the VM Trooper!  See you in 2011.

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