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Issue Date: August 2007

Virtualisation explained

23 August 2007
Imi Mosaheb, country manager, AMD

Enterprises have been using virtualisation technology on mainframes and RISC-based systems for years to enable better utilisation of hardware resources. As x86 servers have become a mainstay in the enterprise, more companies are exploring virtualisation with these servers to enable more productive, flexible, and scalable datacentres and making a big difference to over pressurised storage systems.
Virtualisation - a technology that enables corporations to make more effective use of the computing resources within the datacentre and move legacy software and data to newer, more efficient hardware platforms and relieving pressure on storage systems. Virtualisation partitions a server into several 'virtual machines', each able to run its own separate operating system and application environment. This moves businesses away from a 'one server, one application' model in which computing resource use can average less than 25%, and toward an infrastructure that lets a business manage its servers across a heterogeneous environment far more effectively. The ability to run different operating systems and applications on the same physical server lets organisations consolidate the workload placed on servers. If one virtual system fails, another can take over instantly and perform the same tasks.
With the right software and systems in place, a company can manage and automate an array of complex processes. It can create a 'utility' computing environment that serves up data on demand. Armed with greater flexibility in its server and storage infrastructure, an enterprise can attain the flexibility it requires to compete in today's global economy.
Business in a virtual world
Virtualisation can provide well-documented benefits to organisations of all sizes and across a wide spectrum of industries. When an enterprise has the right virtualisation solutions in place, it can achieve efficient utilisation of server resources to more effectively test and deploy new application environments. A well-tuned computing engine can supply an enterprise with the power it needs to ratchet up business goals as well as customer and management expectations. Ultimately, an organisation can more effectively utilise all of its assets across the entire enterprise. Several key business drivers are spurring the adoption of virtualisation. Among them are:
* The need to simplify management of complex hardware devices
Today, multiple hardware platforms, operating systems, and programming environments lead to a jumble of systems and resources. The proliferation of single application servers - and resulting data silos - can wreak havoc on data accessibility and network performance. It is not unusual for an organisation to overuse some equipment while other devices remain vastly underutilised. The resulting imbalance and cascading inefficiencies typically lead to higher costs, reduced response time, and more complex provisioning.
* A more flexible and scalable environment
Many organisations find themselves awash in data - flowing from multiple databases, data marts and data warehouses, and in addition to the vast array of unstructured data that floods the typical enterprise today. The number of documents in various formats, e-mail messages, photographs, and video files is growing at a rapid clip. The fast pace of business demands a computing environment that allows fast and easy access to this growing mountain of data. Any lag in performance can slam the brakes on a company's overall performance and light up its bottom line in red ink.
As the organisation's data environment continues to grow, so does the need to ensure that its applications continue to operate at their maximum potential. Virtualisation enables legacy applications and data to be run on modern hardware platforms, providing more security and performance benefits.
* Another advantage of virtualisation is its ability to streamline and accelerate deployment of software and systems.
An enterprise can deploy a new version of the operating system and continue to run a legacy application in a virtual machine. Using virtual machines to test migration plans, including debugging systems and analysing performance, makes it easier to isolate and solve problems before migrating to new environments. It reduces the cost and risk of rewriting, porting or integrating existing applications with new systems and lets an organisation deploy new systems with minimal disruption to users.
Consequently, customers, employees, and supply chain partners can work in a familiar way. In addition, by separating hardware and software management issues, an enterprise can often manage and maintain discreet systems far more effectively
* A virtual environment also excels at managing workstations, departmental servers, datacentre servers and other devices.
Virtualisation's ability to separate hardware and software management issues and manage discreet virtual systems can escalate network performance to a higher level. In fact, by allocating and reallocating resources on the fly, an organisation can often gain a level of flexibility unimaginable only a few short years ago.
Today, a wide range of organizations - including those in data-intensive industries such as financial services, healthcare, aerospace, and retailing-already have deployed virtualisation successfully. Many other companies are following suit. In fact, a growing number of businesses are turning to virtualisation solutions to help them build more power efficient, highly flexible, and scalable solution platforms. As business decision-makers increasingly look to squeeze out additional gains from the x86 architecture, they are taking a closer and more critical look at the servers they purchase. Certainly, it is no longer feasible to buy a server for every application an enterprise uses. Managing IT resources efficiently is a necessity. Only then is it possible for an enterprise to ensure that it is reducing the pressure placed on storage systems, and gaining a return on assets.

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