Virtualization: the best get better

With the Microsoft and Linux camps starting to get their acts together on server virtualization, we decided to check in with VMware, the company that popularized the concept, to see what gains it is making in the interim.

Revenue growth tells part of the story: Sales last year were up 77% to $387 million. Quarter-over-quarter growth is in the 15% to 20% range, says Raghu Raghuram, vice president of Datacenter and Desktop Platform Products.

While that shows strong acceptance, perhaps even more telling are surveys that show one quarter of customers now have a VMware-first policy, meaning the virtual server option has to be considered for all new applications, Raghuram says. That approach lets the best operating system be used for each application and delivers other benefits, such as ease in moving applications around.

"Applications become just another file," he says. Customers can shuttle programs from machine to machine to accommodate demand spikes, avoid downtime associated with hardware repairs or for disaster recovery, he says.

Server consolidation is another core benefit. Raghuram says customers typically can consolidate three to seven servers per processor core. "Some conservative users will base their ROI on five and leave it at that, while others are squeezing in 20," he says.

To address buyer concerns about the technology's making it possible to put too many eggs in one basket, the company has announced two technologies, which are still in beta.

One is Distributed Availability Services (DAS), an add-on for the company's Virtual Center management system. The tool interfaces to system vendors' management tools, which monitor for anomalies in things such as fan speed and heat, letting DAS restart a virtual machine on another box in a cluster and move an application before a failure occurs.

The other technology is Distributed Resource Scheduler, which lets VMware's tools schedule application processing chores across a range of systems, finding the optimum place in a pool of resources to handle a given task.

To keep the industry momentum going, VMware is working on three virtualization standards, Raghuram says: how virtual environments are managed; how virtual environments are represented on disk (so they can be patched and backed up without starting the virtual machine); and how operating systems interact with the virtual machine layer (to ensure interoperability across environments).

More competition is on the horizon, but VMware has a huge head start. The emerging techs have a long way to go to catch up.

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