Hardware

Talking intelligently about virtualization


Virtualization is being thrown at us from all directions. All the major vendors are moving into this arena: VMware (an EMC company) is not alone anymore.

Just in case you need a refresher, a virtual machine is simply a fully functioning computer where you can install an operating system of your choice, with network configuration and a full suite of software.

The catch is that the operating system is virtual and resides on an existing server/computer. These types of configurations allow you to save money, consolidate servers, and maximize your utilization.

Since everyone I know who is interested in virtualization is talking about these three benefits, let's explore them in greater detail.

Save money

If you talk to any CTO in any company and tell him or her you can save them "X" number of dollars by complimenting their network infrastructure with virtualization, you will have an willing audience.

How you say? Here's a good example: You just recently purchased five licenses of Windows 2003 for five servers about to implemented into your infrastructure. This would cost you roughly $10K-to-$15K in licensing fees.

What if I told you I could give you the same infrastructure for $2K-to-$5K? How? By simply buying one license of Windows Server 2003 R2, you get up to four virtual instances free-of-charge. Simply download any virtualization software you desire and install four more virtual operating systems for free.

Consolidate servers

Hosting facilities and corporate server rooms are busting at the seams. It seems every vendor has some unique software that requires a stand-alone server. In the dot-com era this might have worked, but today we are faced with increasing energy costs to power these money-sucking machines.Server rooms are the energy vampires of technology's new millennium. How can we face this increasing cost head on? Virtualization.

You could have a software and server inventory done and see how many servers are simply just running one application-maybe even a legacy application. By taking advantage of virtualization, you could easily consolidate 20 servers down to five.

Maximize utilization

Maximizing utilization of servers and consolidation of servers seem to go hand-in-hand. You cannot do one without the other. When you consolidate servers, you maximize utilization.

As a consultant working deep in the trenches, I can't tell you how many times I've seen a huge Quad processor server running a miniscule app and the utilization of the server is not even registering.

That same box, if utilized to its potential, could host three-to-five virtual instances. It is not uncommon these days to gather up all the legacy applications you are still running and place them on one server with several virtual instances.

By properly utilizing your servers with virtualization, you will reduce costs and consolidate servers in your environment.

So the next time your IT cronies are hanging out by the water cooler and they start talking about virtualization, what they are really discussing is reduced costs, consolidated servers, and maximized infrastructure.

It just sounds like one word.

24 comments
les.johnson
les.johnson

Vendors Apps in a Virtual Environment we are finding vendors put proviso's into their apps that they cannot guarantee this app under a virtual environment and any application issue will the recieve a "ah..we did say that this should be housed on a physical box. Please replicate the problem on physical and phone back" This makes the decision to house on a VM somewhat of a gamble?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Can you provide any vendor or application names? I haven't heard of this happening, but it's easy enough to believe. Incidentally, some niche application vendors are beginning to offer apps bundled as virtual machines. They specify a virtual host operating system, and when you install what they sell you, it creates a new virtual machine with the application pre-configured. I saw a couple of these at a VMware seminar earlier this summer.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I was under the impression that if the software can run on a physical box then it could run on a virtual one. All an app needs is a disk, some memory an OS and some processor time.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I ask honestly as I don't know solaris beyond it's name. I know there is still a big difference between openSolaris and the production model but I would have thought the processor support was easily swapped back and forth in the kernel.

Technowiz
Technowiz

Hi, there are some of these telco application which are programmed keeping the underlying sparc processor in place. VMware supports Solaris 10 but on Intel(read X86) platform. There are certainly differences between Solaris for Sparc and Solaris for Intel -- else you wouldnt have seperate installables for each of them.

quiron
quiron

I've worked with a TELCO product runing Solaris, who must be installed via a Solaris install server. For simplicity, some people used VM to run the Solaris install server. But when were troubles, our support said "no no, pls run on a physical box and call again". BTW: with a physical box, all went fine.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

First: My only experience with virtualization has been in classes where the software was already set up. This is a great way to do a class. The servers are only files. To back it up copy it to a different location. I can see this is great for legacy systems also. However in every case where I used them the machines hosting the software took a performance hit. Sometimes they slowed down a lot sometimes only a little. This makes me sceptical about putting several servers on one physical machine. Perhaps that was because the schools were using workstations rather than servers for the hardware? Second: How would you recommend setting up a test system? I really do like the concept but my boss is even more sceptical. Is there freeware virtual software? Or would such freeware be crapware?

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I'll check out the free downloads. As to the hardware. What's available for this project will be some older desktops that haven't been sanitized and surplused yet. Although I can beef up the RAM. Neon Samurai, when we were looking for a contractor to help with the upgrade from NT to 2003 servers one of them suggested running VMware on linux boxes. My bosses rejected the proposal. They are afraid of linux because we need to be self sufficient as to support. It's kind of funny because we have 2 snap servers and I think their underlying OS is linux(?).

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Your boses probably don't realize how much of there network is already running Linux; switches, routers, other network appliances. I wouldn't be surprised if your snap servers had a linux or other unix back end though I'm not familiar with them. (I'd be hitting google usually about now to learn all about snap servers but my N800 arrived in the mail today. I expect to be fiddling with it for the next week until the honeymoon ends and I get down to tweaking it just how I like.) If you have autonomy over the test server, it's worth trying a minimal Linux install. You'll notice a performance increase within the guest OS and anyone using them won't take notice of the back end. The X GUI VMware manager is dead simple to use; looks just like the Windows one. Not having someone else's neck to strangle when you have a support issue isn't so bad when you realize how much free support is available but I understand the politics of it very well. "The buck stops here" is a hard business case to make. Either way, in the end, the bosses get the final say.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

VMware's flagship ESX product, designed to run on a server and support multiple guest operating systems, is a Linux-based OS of it's own. Don't confuse the virtualization apps designed to run on a desktop under an pre-existing Windows / Linux / OS X / other desktop operating systems with server-based virtualization OSs like ESX. The desktop hosts are good for demos, proof of concepts, running multiple OSs on a single-user desktop, but you want an ESX-caliber product to host multiple guest production servers.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You'll take a smaller performance hit if you use a Linux distro or BSD as the host OS. Build your Windows VMs as guests on top and you should be laughing. My humble single core AMD Athlon 2000+ with 2gig ram can run the host OS and three VMs comfortably though they are not all under heavy load at once. The hardware starts to choke with a fourth VM though I think more due to ram constraints than processor.

damone
damone

To your first question: Improving performance of VMs can be done in a few ways: 1) More RAM!!! In a larger percentage of cases, this is the culprut. More RAM can dramatically improve performance. 2) On the host OS, shut off services that are not required 3) If you use Microsoft virtual products, change the performance options (Right click my computer, choose Properties. Then choose Advanced and click on the Settings button under Performance) on the base OS to: a) Processor Scheduling - BBackground services b) Memory Usages - Programs My take is to use VMWare products, they are better are sharing hardware and resources. On the Second Question: For setting up a test system, get a good server to test with. If you just want to proove virtualization (Processor: 2.2 Ghz and RAM of 8GB or higher. Disk is important too, mirrored or RAID 5 would help improve performance.) If you must use a workstation and Windows XP, you will be limited to the amount of Memory (3GB I believe) that the system will recognize and use. Also, a single disk with multiple VMs putting I/O to it will reduce performance. But if it is a proof of concept, it can work. I have a P4 2 Ghz laptop with 3 GB of memory and dual drives. I have run VMServer (VMWare) and VMWorkstation (VMWare). With both products I have been able to run 4 VMs well, and maxed out at 6. I was the only user of the VMs, so performance was not hindered. More users hitting the VMs will reduce performance as well because of I/O requests.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

VMware Server and Microsoft Virtual PC are both free virtualization products for Windows OSs and can be downloaded from those companies. Each will allow you to create install hosting software and create virtual guests system from a variety of operating systems. MS has a preconfigured 90-day Vista virtual machine you can download. VM offers pre-configured virtuals for it's VMware Player product. I personally prefer the VM products. I haven't played with virtual machines on a non-MS system, although the products do exist. You're right, the performance is very dependent on the hardware. On a desktop for demonstration and experimental purposes it isn't as important, but you definitely want to put some thought into the hardware specs in a production environment.

Miyamoto Musashi
Miyamoto Musashi

I agree with you, Palmetto, regarding the VMware products. Here at my job (government), I have installed VMware Server on my Server 2003 test server. Then, with the appropriate licenses, I have installed the OS's that I am testing (Windows 98, Windows XP and Fedora Core 7 (FC7)). I have worked out several solutions to a mixed network environment using VMware Server. We are currently running Novell on several of our production servers and out new servers that are coming out of test and into production, are non Novell. We are transitioning away from Novell and to a straight Windows Server 2003 platform. However, I have several Novell base applications that should be sunset in the next year, so instead of placing 2 physical machines on everyone's desk, I have added VMware Player and they can access the applications that run on Novell via the Player. This has been an excellent and cost effective solution to our problem. We will be transitioning our current Windows Server 2003 file and backup servers to RHEL within the next 3 years and allso transitioning and consolidating our application servers to VMware ESX servers. For the RHEL servers, the newest Intel base processors are fine, however, over the years of working with VMware products I have found that the AMD processors offer better performance over the Intel processors in VM environments. I haven't dug too deeply into it so I'm not sure why an AMD processor works better. I have just accepted my results. As a side note, I run nothing but FC7 at home with VMware Server running Windows XP when needed. When running benchmarks, the Linux platform based VMware Server does perform better than the Windows base VMware platform, although when running say a Windows XP VM in VMware Server on a Windows machine, say Windows Server 2003, I have noticed that more devices work. (I.E.: USB devices.) I did some experimenting at home on my personal test machine (which runs FC7) and found that the host OS MUST support the hardware before the virtual machine will support it. Also, "odd ball" adapters, such as TV tuners, don't work in the VM environment. Die hard Linux fans, such as myself, are forced to run a Windows box somewhere, IF we are running "odd ball" adapters... OR we make the attempt at writing our own drivers to interface with a working software package... I no longer have time to write my own drivers, so I have to use a Windows machine. I have not exposure to Microsoft's Virtual PC and have heard that it takes a pigger performance hit on the host than does VMware. I have also worked with Parallels the Mac version of virtualization and have found that the VM takes the performance hit and the host Mac OS does a good job of compensating. I have downloaded the VMware Mac version and am looking forward to installing it and running it through it's paces during it's 30 day trial period. In conclusion, I have been a big virtualization fan for a long time. I'm pleased at the progress that VMware has made with their products and will continue to utilize them to reduce hardware cost, downtime and to simplify disaster recovery.

qhartman
qhartman

"What if I told you I could give you the same infrastructure for $2K-to-$5K? How? By simply buying one license of Windows Server 2003 R2, you get up to four virtual instances free-of-charge. Simply download any virtualization software you desire and install four more virtual operating systems for free." Where are you getting this information? This is news to me. They actually let you setup as many as four VM's as completely independent installations?

Steven S. Warren
Steven S. Warren

From what I read in the longwinded Microsoft licensing. If you purchase Windows Server 2003 R2, you can get four virtual instances free of charge. If they have changed their licenensing which doesnt surprise me, please let me know.

damone
damone

From Microsoft: Enterprise Edition, you receive use rights for four virtual machines under one physical license. Datacenter Edition: ? After the appropriate number of licenses are acquired and assigned, you may run o One instance of the server software in the physical OS environment, and o Any number of instances of the server software in virtual OS environments

damone
damone

Microsoft has tricky EULA wording as well that limits moving VMs. You can do it, but no more than 4 can be on a physical server that has a Windows (Enterprise) license applied to it. Some interpretations also say that you can only move a VM every 90 days. (I believe this has been clarified to mean only the license for a physical machine, not a VM) The only way to freely 'move' a VM is to buy DataCenter edition of Windows for all physical servers, since DataCenter edition allows unlimited VMs on a physical machine.

Mylon2202
Mylon2202

This only works for Enterprise. (4 free virtuals) If you have standard edition you cannot do this. Kinda a catch because enterprise costs 4x more then standard.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I remember reading the article here a few weeks ago. In short, one Server 2003 Enterprise license allows you one physical installation and four virtual ones. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/tech-news/?p=643 Be sure to follow the "white paper" link to MS' web site and their official policy, and that this applies to the Enterprise edition only.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

That's a great clarification on the Enterprise edition. For the Data Center Edition of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft provides the following: Unlimited virtualization rights: Starting October 1, 2006, new servers licensed with Windows Server Datacenter Edition (and previous licenses with new version rights) will have license rights to run an unlimited number of virtualized Windows Server instances. By simply licensing the server?s processors with Windows Server Datacenter Edition, customers will be able to run Windows Server Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition or a mix of the three editions without having to track the number of virtual machines or pay for additional Windows Server licenses. In short, buy one Data Center license and all of the individual instances you run on that box are included in the single DC license. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/evaluation/news/bulletins/datacenterhighavail.mspx

jurquidi
jurquidi

Going through your article and others linked to it, I don't see where running VMWare ESX Server would fit in. The physical box that you pay the license for is the host Windows 2003 Ent. R2 box which then hosts 4 VMs for free (using "free" loosely). Reading your article initially, it sounded like you can run 5 instances at the price of one...but on what kind of VM host environment? Just Windows 2003 Ent?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

ESX is it's own operating system. (Incidentally, it's Linux based.) You don't load it ON Windows Server, you load it INSTEAD of Windows Server. Then you create and run your virtual machines (what VMware calls "guests") on the ESX server (the "host"). The licensing issue seems to indicate that an Enterprise license will allow one physical installation and four virtual installations, but as I read it that didn't mean they had to all be on the same physical box. I also didn't read it to mean the physical installation was even required. I also took it to mean that if I had a physical Windows server already running, that I would be legally covered if I converted that existing licensed physical server to a virtual server. Consult your MS sleazoid, uh, sales rep to get the exact legal details. This is a fairly new policy and I don't think all the questions have been asked, much less answered. VMware Server is a great evaluation or test lab tool, and will let you play with the concepts on an existing desktop. It comes in versions for Windows, Linux, and (I think) Apple desktops. I would not use it in a production environment any more than I would use a desktop computer as a production server. Use VMware Server for tests, experiment, and learning virtualization concepts. Use ESX in production environments where you'll be running multiple virtual servers on one physical box. It has much greater management capabilities - ability to make multiple backups of a vm, ability to move vm's between physical servers, DR capabilites, etc., that don't exist in the free Server product.

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