Here Come the Hypervisors

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Like so many computing tools and technologies, the hypervisor has been around practically forever (that is, in IT terms), but it’s just beginning to gain widespread recognition as its business value becomes apparent. What makes this tool valuable is the process it facilitates: virtualization, which simulates technology resources that aren’t really there. In this case, those resources are operating systems.

The first hypervisors came into being in the late 1960s at IBM, with the CP-40 and its souped-up successor, the CP-67. The idea was that a machine could run multiple operating systems at once, thereby improving efficiency and effectiveness by performing numerous tasks simultaneously.

While this was an amazing capability, few organizations understood or desired this kind of computing power, and demand for hypervisors hardly set the world on fire. This relative insignificance in the IT market would continue for the next three-plus decades. Although a few UNIX vendors (such as HP, Sun and IBM) picked up on it and offered this technology to their clients, the size and cost of these systems made them prohibitive for most organizations.

However, the rise of networks and the rapid proliferation of servers have made this technology desirable in the past few years, and the demand for it is projected to go way up. In fact, financial firm Goldman Sachs has predicted the virtualization market will exceed $5 billion by 2011, an increase that would amount to approximately 500 percent over five years.

The main reason for this upshot is the ability to manage practically any grouping of technologies — from PCs to massive servers — centrally. Ideally, this allows a focal operating system, which can be accessed from any point via virtualization, to move data from machine to machine with ease.

The pioneer in this sector is Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMWare, which in 1999 released its VMware Workstation, a virtual machine software suite. Ever since then, it has competed with HP, Sun and Microsoft in this space. But VMware is not the scrappy underdog in this fight — it’s the undisputed leader in the space, as the company has controlled more than half the hypervisor market as long as it’s been tracked.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have serious competition. In addition to the aforementioned tech giants, VMware faces a challenge from XenSource, which provides its hypervisor for free as an open-source product and sells related products and services around that. Interestingly, XenSource recently was purchased by Citrix for $500 million, and there are rumors Microsoft will buy Citrix just to get its hands on that hypervisor technology.

So this is an interesting space, to say the least. It’s not unreasonable to predict your organization will buy a hypervisor sometime in the next decade, if it hasn’t already, because of its virtualization capabilities. But it’s anyone’s guess as to which company it will be purchasing this product from.

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Brian Summerfield


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