Go Green with Virtualization of Servers and Workstations

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This server focus will continue through the next decade as chip and server architecture evolves to support more extensive virtualization environments. Virtualization solutions and capabilities are going to change dramatically during the next few years. Virtualization technologies are already fragmenting into multiple technical approaches as well as virtualization “targets” (e.g., servers, storage, application, and now workstations).

All aspects of the large data centers of tomorrow as well as at the smaller SME area will have a very virtual flavour and will challenge IT professionals and those that look after computer systems in your business.

Save Energy by Eliminating Hardware Sprawl

Virtualization can reduce energy costs and consumption by up to 80%. Most servers and desktops today are in use only 8-15% of the time they are powered on, yet most x86 hardware consumes 60-90% of the normal workload power even when idle. Virtualization software has advanced resource and memory management features that enable consolidation ratios of 15:1 or more which increase hardware utilization to as much as 85%. With virtualization, you can dramatically reduce energy consumption without sacrificing reliability or service levels.

Virtulization Benefits

The work by the early vendors such as VMWare to convince customers of the value of virtualization is over. Many businesses are reaping the benefits and are utilizing the new flexibility and options that virtualization solutions enable. Virtualization continues to show additional tangible benefits the more it’s used, expanding its value to businesses in this time of tight finances.

The payback from virtualization investments includes:

  • Fewer physical computers to buy and deploy. This places virtualization front and center as one of the key pieces of the “reduce capital expenses” calls that all IT organizations to address. Buyers are shifting to larger, multi-core computers to support the consolidation options driven by virtualization. Not only will fewer absolute physical servers be purchased, but the number of different types of servers also will be reduced – thereby reducing overall infrastructure complexity. Typically, currently available virtualization technology can generally consolidate five or six physical computers into one. If a business has 4 to 5 servers currently, it may be able to reduce that number to a single servers, provided they’re all good candidates for virtualization. (Not all workloads are suitable for virtualization – e.g., those with high input/output rates, memory-intensive demands, or specialized hardware requirements cannot run well when virtualized.)
  • Reduction in power consumption – for both powering the physical devices and cooling them. One well-known fact is that power consumption is not directly related to device utilization. Having fewer physical devices, and running them at higher utilization rates, is one of the key tenets of “green IT.” The reduction in space and power requirements can create the additional benefit of longer life for existing data centers.
  • Improved hardware resource utilization to derive maximum value from current device investments. Distributed servers typically are lightly loaded, and consolidating workloads can increase efficiencies in using the physical devices.
  • Flexibility and responsiveness in application development and test lab environments. Having a core physical infrastructure that can be reproduced, as needed, to support multiple development and quality assurance scenarios can accelerate time to market for new projects.
  • Flexibility in business continuity and disaster recovery. Virtualized servers can easily be backed up as a complete image of the computer as they are just a series of data file. These datafiles can be readily restored back to any hardware platform that is using the same (or even different) virtualisation technologies in a short time, enabling much simpler server and application disaster recover.
  • Reduction in management costs for physical devices. This reduction is realized as companies act upon consolidation plans, and as future hardware purchases displace larger numbers of legacy physical devices.
  • Agility and responsiveness to business demand. Virtual server options enable fast provisioning and configuration, without the extended cycles often related to procuring, reusing, or provisioning physical devices. Additionally, virtualization technologies provide new workload-balancing techniques to handle workload expansion and contraction.

Virtualization is no longer restricted to large corporates where were the trailblazers. Small Businesses can also benefit from this technology at least as much as large organizations.

Physical Infrastructure Revolution

Server virtualization has arisen concurrently with the evolution in computing platforms – from the blade architecture that is gaining ground today for its density and ease of deployment, to the multi-core computing options from the large server vendors.

Just as mainframe architectures have evolved over the past decades to be optimized for virtual environments, x86 and other smaller distributed server architectures also have virtualization capabilities delivered by (hypervisor) software from companies like VMWare ànd Microsoft.

Chip vendors, such as Intel and AMD, provide hardware assists for virtualization, such as native page table support for virtual memory management, and they will continue to offer device functions unique for virtualization.

The day will come when running a virtual server environment incurs negligible overhead costs compared with a purely physical server environment, although we are not quite there yet. Virtualization for distributed computing environments is now becoming an embedded technology, with some hardware manufacturers including virtualisation “software” in the computer’s firmware.

Virtual Server Appliances

A new breed of applications is emerging where the complete server and application are delivered through preconfigured and easy-to-deploy virtualization packages. This “black box” approach – where the package contains the operating system, database, middleware, and application code – can reduce installation, configuration, maintenance, and security complexity.

Currently, a modest number of vendors make use of these virtual appliance packages, but they will be common in the future – not just from vendors, but also for custom in-house applications.

Today, when a software vendor sells its product, it ships a set of software packages on Cd or DVD that the customers must install, patch, configure, and get up and running. There’s a lot of layering of all the software onto a running computer. The historical way to achieve the layering is to put the operating system on the server and then put in the needed subsystems, such as a Web server, a database server, or a file system, then install the application software.

In a virtual appliance world, vendors do much of that heavy lifting. Instead of a set of software packages that must be separately installed, patched, and configured, customers will receive a completely installed, preconfigured image of that software with all the subsystems they need to run it. They simply copy it into their virtualisation run-time environment, attach it and start the virtual machine. Users then just connect to it to run the application. Simple, fast and foolproof.

Virtualizing Corporate Desktops

Companies of all sizes are rapidly exploring and expanding their use of Virtual Workstations which run desktops as virtual machines in the datacenter.

Typically, desktop PCs are powered on for the full course of the day, whether users are computing or away from their PC. With Virtual Workstations, desktop computing resources are aggregated in the datacenter with much higher utilization.

A Virtual Workstation typically is a virtual machine located in a computer-room connected to a thin-client terminal on the users desk. There are many convincing benefits of virtualizing desktops.

  • Customers use less energy with Virtual Workstations by replacing underutilized PC desktop hardware with thin-clients that consume far less energy.
  • Software management of virtual machines is much more straightforward and efficient as it can be managed right in the datacentre and visits to work sites is reduced to making sure the thin-client can physically connect to the Virtual Workstation.
  • Because thin-clients connect to a server with a special protocol (eg RDP) and do all the processing on the server and only transmit encrypted key stokes and screen refreshes back to the client, your environment can be readily expanded from running just within your business LAN to running via the WAN so that anyone you want to allow access and process data can do so over the Internet. No changes are needed to do this, just configure your firewall to achieve it.
  • Using thin-clients as the client for your virtual workstations extends the expected lifespan of desktop hardware as they have little intelligence and thus do not outdate as fast as conventional PCs. You replace your desktop equiupment less frequently and they are also much cheaper than PCs.
  • Using Virtual Workstations enables you to upgrade operating systems and application software easily with little effect on the end-user.
  • Virtual Workstations lets you take advantage of the higher utilization and advanced capabilities of proven virtualization environments, especially when linked with multi-user addons available for Windows workstation software.

Virtual desktops can also take advantage of the dynamic workload balancing and distributed power management of a virtual infrastructure. With multi-user capabilities added to standard workstation software, a single virtiual workstation can be utilised comfortably by between 5 and 10 users. This enables you to reduce your capital costs of PCs dramatically when replacing them with thin-clients and linking to a virtual PC workstation in the datacentre. The power saving costs are also impressive saving about 85% of the power user for operating largely idle PCs in the workplace.

Want to know more?

We specialise in virtualisation for the small to medium enterprise (SME) who are running from 1 to 20 servers at present. We can design a replacement strategy where existing servers can be consolidated on to fewer hardware servers while providing enhanced disaster recovery strategies and reduced cost of systems management. We also supply, install and configure virtual workstation environments to enable multiple thin-clients to connect to a single virtual workstation to run standard Windows applications.

Contact us to discuss how virtualization can help your business.