Virtualization 2.0

It’s hard to open any magazine, newspaper or Web site these days without reading something about virtualization.

The concept has taken the IT world by storm, essentially transforming the industry in a mere handful of years — most of that in the past six months.

Virtualization started off as a way to consolidate hardware, reduce costs and enrich the user experience. Today, by enabling computers to share resources across multiple environments, virtualization essentially “transform[s] hardware into software,” according to VMware.com, a software developer and a global leader in the virtualization market. Virtualization software “creates virtual machines and contains a virtual machine monitor, or ‘hypervisor,’ that allocates hardware resources dynamically and transparently so that multiple operating systems can run concurrently on a single physical computer without even knowing it,” the site explains.

Benefits include increased efficiency, cost savings on equipment and energy bills, as well as “high availability of resources, better desktop management, increased security and improved disaster recovery processes when you build a virtual infrastructure,” according to VMware.com.

Though it already has come a long way in a short amount of time, virtualization technology is developing faster than ever. In September, The New York Times reported Cisco Systems was releasing the Nexus 1000V, a new virtual switch that promises to offer greater capabilities than the existing VMware version. What more does the future hold?

One of the next frontiers likely will be mobile technology. With the plethora of devices out there — cell phones, BlackBerrys, PDAs, iPhones — programmers need to rewrite each application for their separate operating systems. This can take months. But virtualization software would allow these applications to run on any system, according to a BusinessWeek.com article.

“So Motorola could grab a Web-browsing application written for one system, an e-mail application for another and calling features designed for a third OS, and elegantly integrate them in one phone,” the article states. This would not only speed up the design of new phones but also reduce the number of processor chips the phone would need to run.

Virtualization on mobile technology also could cut down on security threats. “[It] will help operators give preference to ‘trusted’ applications,” the article continued.

This could have major implications for a corporate environment. According to a survey sponsored by device management solutions provider Mformation Technologies and executed by Coleman Parkes Research, nine out of 10 businesses do not track all the information on mobile devices. Understandably, many chief technology officers worry sensitive data is at risk due to lost or misused gadgets.

“[According to Gartner, virtualization] will allow companies to keep a tight security rein on the increasing number of different types of mobile gadgets by making sure that every corporate device adheres to the same consistent security rules,” a CNET.com article states.

But don’t run out and shop for a new phone yet: CNET.com also reported that virtualization technology for mobile devices is still two years off. Additionally, a recent Venture Development survey that found less than 5 percent of the engineer respondents used virtualization in phones and almost a third weren’t familiar with the technology.

Another new frontier for virtualization involves desktops and has the potential to revolutionize the laptop industry, according to Jack, a particularly knowledgeable blogger who writes about VMware and other tech-related topics on his site, WMware World.

In a post from December 2007, Jack wrote: “Since virtualization has already proven itself in the server arena, the next proving ground will naturally be the virtualization of the user’s desktops. This can already be evidenced by VMware’s VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) environment that leverages VMware’s ESX Virtual Enterprise environment to provide users with a virtual desktop that all their own. While centralizing the desktop environment of users has already been accomplished with products like Citrix, VDI serves to provide the user with a centralized virtual desktop that’s all their own and not ‘shared’ with any other users.”

Jack surmised that allowing for desktop virtualization will lead to users connecting to their companies’ servers via the Internet, which would “cut the costs of today’s laptops drastically by allowing for a scaled-down version running a minimal configuration for hardware.”

Without a doubt, “virtualization” represents the IT buzzword today. And with so many projects in the works and so many possibilities just within reach, it seems the IT world is waiting with baited breath. Only time will tell whether the reality lives up to the hype. 

– Agatha Gilmore, agilmore@certmag.com

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