What can virtualization bring to the data center?

* Virtualization: Third step to utility

There are four major steps on the road to a flexible data center: consolidation, standardization, virtualization and utility.

There are four major steps on the road to a flexible data center: consolidation, standardization, virtualization and utility (see "Four steps to utility," . A company may choose one area, say storage, to start on the utility roadmap. Some companies may attempt to push all aspects of the data center towards utility. While the effort is not without challenges, it can bring benefits, especially in the form of reduced operational costs and greater agility. In this article, we will examine the challenges and implications of embarking on the third step: virtualization.

* Storage virtualization

Storage virtualization has been a hot topic for at least the last two years. It occurs at two levels: block storage and file storage. Storage teams can implement virtualization of storage-area network storage to present several different physical storage racks as a single virtual storage pool.

Using virtual SANs you can further virtualize storage by offering multiple separate and isolated virtual SANs from the same pool. In file-based storage, companies can virtualize the network-attached storage, creating virtual file systems from a pool of several NAS devices. Additionally, file storage can be delivered virtually from underlying SAN block storage, where a NAS gateway presents a virtual file system that is stored on blocks of a virtual SAN (see "Storage leads the way to next-gen data center,".

* Computing

Computing virtualization is also growing very fast. Some of the leading companies in the space have developed cross-platform server virtualization software that allows data center managers to cluster and partition servers. With these tools, a single physical server can either offer multiple virtual servers, or be consolidated into a cluster that acts as a single server (see "Virtualization and clustering: combining two winning strategies,".

* Networking

Networking virtualization can occur at the LAN or the WAN. On the LAN, virtual LAN technology allows network managers to create isolation and segmentation into virtual LANs running on a single physical LAN. On the WAN side, the same effect can be achieved with MPLS, a technology that offers partitioning of WANs into multiple isolated virtual WANs running on a single physical infrastructure. Virtualization can bring higher utilization, better security and easier management.

* Security

Security virtualization is probably the one area where the technology is still lagging. There are a few examples of virtualized security devices that offer multiple instances on a single physical chassis. This can be extremely useful for service providers managing multiple customers. However, we have yet to see broader deployment within enterprise environments. We believe that the virtualization trend in the other areas (storage, servers, etc.) will lead to more demand for virtualized security services that can be "orchestrated" in parallel with the other data center services (see "Is your business strategy being undermined by your security strategy?". Identity Management is perhaps the first area where such a trend is visible (see "Creating an identity layer with directory virtualization,".

Data center managers and CIOs will find it difficult to persuade the business units to give up some control in return for greater flexibility. Focus your efforts on the areas of greatest cost and take it one step at a time. By creating a detailed roadmap, you can show the benefits of discreet and achievable steps (see "Zen and the art of the new data center," without having to evangelize a hard-to-see future. In the next few articles, we will expand on this topic and examine the details of the next step: utility. Stay tuned.

*** For more about the future of the data center, don’t miss Network World’s six-part series on The New Data Center. On Aug. 22, Network World will publish part 5 in the series, looking at advanced IP developments. On Oct. 4, we publish the part 6 in the series, focusing on outsourcing, new data center-style, including an article by Andreas Antonopoulos that provides a layer-by-layer guide to the hottest new data center tools, aimed at application virtualization to intelligent networking. Click here to find archives of the past issues in the series.

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