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Windows 7's XP Mode is one example of how virtualization is becoming more useful to home users and business users alike.
Virtualization is a way of getting more out of the same hardware -- are you taking advantage of it

While virtualization is not without its share of detractions, its allure is great. After all, it promises to make compatibility and resource management woes -- two eternal computer problems -- things of the past. 

Imagine being freed from fears of software compatibility, and being able to reclaim your idle hardware for a purpose.  That's the premise behind virtualization.  While new users may still not have heard of virtualization or understand its benefits, the movement is growing and it may eventually become as ubiquitous a concept as the desktop operating system.

Virtualization is divided into two key categories -- application virtualization and platform virtualization.  The goal of application virtualization is to provide compatibility layers.  This could allow you to, say run an old Windows 3.1 program on a Linux operating system.  The open source project Wine is an example of this kind of virtualization.

The second category is platform virtualization -- bringing the whole OS onboard.  There's a variety of ways of accomplishing this with solutions available in both the desktop and server markets.  Some solutions have multiple kernels (a central component of the OS) running in parallel, with one for each virtual machine (full virtualization), while other schemes involve a single kernel managing multiple virtual servers (a server is the interface users use to interact with the OS -- how we perceive Windows) allowing them to all to run at once.  Windows 7's XP Mode is one example of such a scheme -- in Windows 7 a guest virtual machine for Windows XP runs on the system, which communicates through the host Windows 7 kernel.

Some platform virtualization implementations, such as XP Mode, use redirection of input to accomplish application virtualization via platform virtualization rather than a compatibility layer.  The experience is more seamless as the Windows are displayed inline without the need to physically switch to a virtual machine window and navigate through its own windows.

A final important aspect of virtualization is the cloud computing movement.  Though not all cloud computing involves virtualization, many cloud deployments involve sharing virtualized resources over a network.  Shared resources are nothing new, but by virtualizing them, it lowers overhead and ensures that resources are efficiently used.  Google, IBM, and Microsoft are just a few of the major names delving into this field.  An example of cloud computing that even novice users can appreciate is Microsoft Office 2010, which will be available as free web applications for home users.

Virtualization is a fast evolving field and it is not without its problems and obstacles.  One obstacle is cost.  While costs of virtualization are dropping (Windows virtual machines for home users come with copies of Windows 7 Professional at no extra cost), deploying such a solution at your business may require some up-front IT investment and hours.  In the long run it will save costs, but for cash-strapped businesses, this can be a deterrent to adoption, albeit one that will eventually be overcome.

Another more serious challenge is the increased likelihood of interruption of service.  By putting more services on a single set of hardware you raise the damage that could be caused by a power failure -- either at your location or from your system's power supply.  Furthermore, by running your hardware under larger workloads, you run the risk of a higher incidence of part failures.  Again, this is unproven territory as the field is still young, but logic dictates that hardware flexed to its full capacity will likely experience more failures than hardware that spends a significant amount of time in idle.  As the deployment of virtual machines is in the hands of system administrators, it’s up to them to make sure that they're not overburdening hardware.

A final challenge is security.  By placing multiple virtual machines on a single set of hardware, you run the risk of an escalated intrusion threat if an attacker can compromise the hypervisor layer -- the layer beneath the virtual machines.  Also in a guest/host setup (like Windows XP Mode) you run the risk of guest-to-host attacks, which can exploit vulnerabilities in legacy operating systems or applications.  Thankfully, such attacks have thus far been rare, but proof-of-concept exploits show the need for vigilance.  As always, diligent patching and careful system administration can protect your virtualized network against most threats.

With that said, how is virtualization impacting you?   How are you adopting virtualization at your home or business?  And, if you're not adopting virtualization, what's holding you back?



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One more issue to consider
By Motoman on 7/23/2009 5:37:19 PM , Rating: 5
...copying and pasting myself from a previous blog entry...

The point being that you're missing the fact that virtualization flat-out does not work well for some applications. It's not a panacea...original post below:

...a major software vendor I worked for for many years sold lots of different products. Most of these we certified and supported on VMWare. A couple of them, we did not...the reason being that running them in a VM environment sucked anywhere from 25% to 90% of their throughput a way...a function of their processing profile (these apps in particular used massive disk I/O, RAM I/O, and CPU utilization all at the same time...which seemed to be instant death in a VM environment).

Customers would ask "when are you going to certify these products on VM?" To which we'd have to explain that we really couldn't because of the problem noted above. Indignant IT guys would just get pissy at that point and either dismiss us, or tell us we didn't know what we were doing, or whatever. Then they'd go and try to implement on VM, and guess what? They got 10 or 20% of the throughput they expected. "Yes, well, we did tell you that..." Some customers would then switch to real hardware, and *boom* - all the throughput they expected.

Other customers, including one massive financial services firm that I won't name for lots of reasons, insisted on going ahead with VM. They literally bought 10 times the amount of hardware they would need for their deployment to try to get the performance with it out of VM that they needed. At least a half-million dollars in extra hardware that they flat-out did not need... And they still couldn't get it to perform acceptably on VM. All the while we're thinking "isn't the argument behind VM the idea of saving money on extra hardware and maintenance?" And here they were buying 10 times the hardware to try to make VM work. In the end, I think they honestly wasted close to a million dollars on extra hardware and labor just repetitively proving to themselves what we told them up front.

VM works great for *lots* of applications. VM murders other applications. Listen to your vendors, and don't be stupid with VM. It will just cost you money and time in the long run.




RE: One more issue to consider
By fownde on 7/23/09, Rating: -1
RE: One more issue to consider
By Lifted on 7/23/2009 6:13:03 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
it's been better than VMWare


What exactly does "better" mean? I assume it means it better suits your needs with price, performance, manageability (can't imagine how), HA (again, don't see how), etc.


RE: One more issue to consider
By DigitalFreak on 7/23/2009 6:52:10 PM , Rating: 4
Yes, Hyper-V is no where near the level of VMWare ESX, even with 2008 R2. It may be ok for small departmental deployments or small business, but it's no where near ready for the enterprise.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Lord 666 on 7/23/2009 7:32:24 PM , Rating: 2
Cisco will not put Hyper-V on the approved list for Unity, but will support VMWare due to performance reasons.

However, in what I feel is self-serving, Cisco only supports FC or FCoE for virtualized Unity.


RE: One more issue to consider
By JonathanC3 on 7/23/2009 8:05:58 PM , Rating: 5
How many properly configured Hyper-V environment have you worked with or seen? I do Hyper-V deployments and the performance are good. And, I'm talking SQL, Exchange, SharePoint and so on. I've worked with both VMware and Hyper-V and I can tell you that they both work. There is one BIG difference however, the cost for Hyper-V is much lower and in case you want to argue on this, I've done virutalization with both so I know the real price of both.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Lifted on 7/23/2009 10:07:47 PM , Rating: 2
As a percentage of the total project cost, what would you say is the difference between Hyper-V and Virtual Infrastructure?
I'm talking servers, SANs, OS and application licenses, etc. I see it being more than a few percent difference. This would be for large deployment obviously.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Lifted on 7/23/2009 10:09:05 PM , Rating: 2
Typo. It should read "I don't see it being more than a few percent difference."


RE: One more issue to consider
By JonathanC3 on 7/24/2009 10:12:46 AM , Rating: 2
Hi Lifted,

I suggest you go see those links:
http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/compare/vm...
http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/20... (There is an good white paper on this page explaining why VMware cost calculation can be misleading)
http://www.milesconsultingcorp.com/Hyper-V-versus-...

For the cost of SAN's and servers, it could be the same for both solutions. The difference is for applications. With Windows 2008 Enterprise you can use the host license for 4 VM's which basicaly saves you thousands of dollars. (unlimited VM with Datacenter Edition) Whit VMware you will have to pay for each OS license you need.

Jonathan C


RE: One more issue to consider
By Brovane on 7/24/2009 10:57:30 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
With Windows 2008 Enterprise you can use the host license for 4 VM's which basicaly saves you thousands of dollars. (unlimited VM with Datacenter Edition) Whit VMware you will have to pay for each OS license you need.


With VMware you can also use DataCenter Licensing model also. I manage a VMware ESX Cluster at my work and we just purchase Data Licensing for each of our Dell R900's and we have unlimited OS licensing on each physical server. The Data Center licensce is registered to the box even if Data Center OS will never run on the box because it is running VMware. So I have no idea where you got the idea that you cannot do this licensing model on VMware ESX Servers.


RE: One more issue to consider
By JonathanC3 on 7/24/2009 11:18:12 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry for the confusion. I should have stated the info about DC edition after. I know that it is not dependant on the virtualization technology used.

Since most SMB don't have Data Center edition, the difference of using Enterprise Edition with Hyper-V versus VMware is true. For the price of 1 license you get 1 physical + 4 VM.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Brovane on 7/24/2009 11:42:38 AM , Rating: 3
Understand. The sentance was confusing.

Also when you are trying to make your point about about MS virtualization maybe you shouldn't link to article's by MS. Of course MS is going to talk about how wonderful there virtualization product is over VMware.

I would agree that MS for the SMB is moving strong into this market. However at the Enterprise level they just didn't have the feature set that a Enterprise is looking for.

For example: Memory over-commit. In VMware I can give a VM 2GB of RAM but if the OS is using 1GB that is all VMware will give it. MS you give 2GB it will take all of 2GB. Also with VMware there is sharing of RAM between VM's. For example if I have 20 Server 2003 running on one physical host there is probably a lot of the same items loaded in RAM. VMware will share this between the OS's so this also cuts down on RAM. Basically VMware maximes your RAM usage.

I know that MS is playing catchup bigtime with VMware. I heard they finally got Live-Migrator working. VMware has had vMotion for years. I can move all my VM's around and I can move the VM files around on the SAN without any downtime.

The biggest complaint that I have always had about MS virtualization is the base OS is a MS OS. For VMware it is hardened Linux Kernel. I heard that Server 2008 Core load is supposeed to be a lot better. I will reserve judgement. Maybe give MS a couple of more years they will catch up to VMware at the Enterprise level.


RE: One more issue to consider
By JonathanC3 on 7/24/2009 11:58:33 AM , Rating: 2
The fact that you keep an open mind is impressive. Most people chose one side and stick to it no mather what. I've had the chance to work with VMware also and it is true that memory management is more developped on VMware. If you want to try MS solution, I suggest you wait for R2 RTM to be released.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Lord 666 on 7/24/2009 12:49:17 AM , Rating: 2
The frustrating part of MS's virtualization platform is the lack of free (non-trial) P2V tool. I would say thats a large barrier for entry into the Hyper-V game.

Just like the neighborhood dealer knows; your first bag is free. Once you get hooked, then its time to start charging. If he charged up front, then not too many people would try it. Same thing for MS versus VMWare.

I sat through a VMWare brainwashing session in NYC today. From what I saw, it was better done (BC/DR, true vendor support) than the MS Virtualization Road show back in October. However, they needed to have some hands on gear to demonstrate it in action. Thats the one part MS did much better with their onsite labs and boxes.


RE: One more issue to consider
By fownde on 7/24/2009 9:58:25 AM , Rating: 2
We are a college so price definitely plays a big part in this. We can get MSV for a lot cheaper than VMWare. And yes, I was referring to it being better for the apps we use.. So I'm not entirely sure why I was rated down for that but /shrug.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Lord 666 on 7/25/2009 11:05:19 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe you got rated down because it appears you are a MS viral plant. Tip off is the MS Virtualization advert that references your username; fownde. Looking at your previous posts, you seem quite MS leaning.


RE: One more issue to consider
By ggordonliddy on 7/26/2009 12:49:28 PM , Rating: 1
What is "numberous"?


RE: One more issue to consider
By johnsonx on 7/23/2009 6:05:02 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Customers would ask "when are you going to certify these products on VM?" To which we'd have to explain that we really couldn't because of the problem noted above. Indignant IT guys would just get pissy at that point and either dismiss us, or tell us we didn't know what we were doing, or whatever.


The problem from the customer IT guy's side is we never know WHY we're getting that answer from the software vendor. The presumption is when we get bs about not supporting VM, the real reason is that you (the vendor) haven't tested it that way and don't want to be bothered.

I'd be more willing to believe a vendor that gives explicit reasons (as you apparently did), rather than just the blanket 'we don't support that' run-around.


RE: One more issue to consider
By someguy123 on 7/23/2009 7:32:43 PM , Rating: 2
I think the issue is that IT guys have to deal with too many people who are technologically illiterate. When you deal with the type of people who wonder why their monitors aren't working when they haven't turned their computers on, you tend to become a little too used to assuming the worst out of your fellow man in terms of their technological prowess.


RE: One more issue to consider
By tastyratz on 7/23/2009 11:51:35 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed.
When I hear its not supported, I think of it being a lack of resources, funding, product ignorance, etc. There are too many variables with a virtualization product (or nightmares with citrix... god what a pain)
If you were up front and honest expanding your definition, I can respect it. "we have tested it and found adverse reactions so we don't support it" would sell me (although I would ask why for expanded details)

A straight no? I would do it anyways and see how it worked.

I plan on virtualizing on a home server soon. Why? Very low demand, and it keeps operational and purchase costs down (I'm cheap)


RE: One more issue to consider
By m4elstrom on 7/24/2009 9:55:41 AM , Rating: 3
Well thats easy to solve; BOFH all the way =D


RE: One more issue to consider
By Smilin on 7/23/2009 11:28:01 PM , Rating: 4
I'm someone who sometimes has to give the "we don't support that" answer. It's one of two reasons:

1. It's been tested and there is a problem doing it that way.
2. It wasn't tested.

If testing is done right during a products development it's going to be thorough (deep rather than wide) and very expensive. It isn't necessarily that the seller doesn't want to be bothered to test, it's that it's not cost effective. If 1000 customers request some particular configuration then the cost can be spread evenly. If just one customer is requesting something odd, then money is lost during the sale. It's not personal, just business.

As for providing a reason: transparency is always a good policy. If there is a known issue, say it. If it's because it's untested, say it. Rational professionals should understand.

As for VMs: yes there is a lot of crap that just won't run right on them. There is going to be a certain "chunkiness" to the cpu time given to each VM. As long as the overall average CPU time is sufficient this usually isn't a problem. For some applications though this just won't do. Realtime media processing for say games, VoIP, webcams etc is an example.


RE: One more issue to consider
By Elementalism on 7/24/2009 9:23:55 AM , Rating: 2
Any vendor selling you a Virtualized Envrionment that is worth a hill of beans will tell you some applications do not benefit from Virtualization. You only Virtualize if you have spare resources left over. I would never virtualize a high throughput database that eats as many cycles as it can on native hardware. But Ill gladly shove other lower cost services on a single piece of hardware.


"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive














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