The Basics of IT Virtualization

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IT virtualization is the creation of a virtual—rather than a physical—version of an IT device or resource. Many people think of virtualization only in terms of virtual machines (VMs), where one physical machine hosts many VMs running different operating system implementations. It’s not uncommon for example, for a single Intel or IBM POWER system to host several different virtual machines using the Windows, Linux, IBM i, or AIX operating systems, dramatically decreasing the physical hardware space needed in your Data Center (DC).

But it’s a mistake to think of virtualization only in terms of virtual machines. Virtualization technologies are used for several different DC functions, including some that you may not even think of as virtualized features. This week, let’s look at the world of virtualization and where it can and will benefit you.

What benefits does virtualization provider?

IT Virtualization is simply creating virtual resources that can be used by different entities, including VMs, operating systems, desktops, applications, and users. These virtual resources can be used in the same manner as any physical IT resource or application. Examples of virtualization in the IT world include:

  • Server virtualization – Dividing a physical server into several smaller virtual machines (VMs) that run on the same hardware, and can be started, stopped, and accessed independently of each other. Running multiple Windows VM servers on an Intel box, or running different IBM i, Linux, and AIX partitions on an IBM POWER machine are well known implementations of server virtualization.
  • Disk drive partitioning – Partitioning hard drives can be considered a virtual technology because it divides one physical set of hard drives into multiple disk drives that can be assigned to different servers or workstations.
  • Network virtualization – Communications ports, such as Ethernet ports, can be virtualized and divided into several different IP addresses that can be used by different VMs, allowing different VMs on the same machine to share a network card.
  • Desktop virtualization (Virtual Desktop Interface, VDI) – Virtualizes a workstation load, rather than a server load. Clients such as thin clients, smartphones, desktops, and tablets use a remote display protocol to run a virtual desktop on a host machine. All their desktop processing takes place on the virtual desktop, but all the results are displayed on their client’s local desktop.
  • Application virtualization – Using an application virtualization product, an application is installed on a remote host and then delivered to the user’s desktop as if it were running locally. Application virtualization allows administrators to install an application once to a centralized server, making it much simpler to update applications and roll out patches.
  • Storage virtualization – Allows storage from several different servers or storage devices to be pooled together to appear as a single storage device, which can be managed from a central console and assigned to different clients. Also known as cloud storage, storage virtualization provides better storage management and utilization.

The benefits of virtualization

Virtualization provides many benefits to an IT organization, including:

  • Reduced costs– Sharing hardware through virtualization reduces capital spending, where a single machine or IT resource can stand in for multiple machines or resources. This reduces the amount of capital spend on machinery and reduces maintenance costs.
  • Faster desktop and server provisioning and deployment – Servers or workstations can be cloned on existing machines and brought up within hours instead of days or months.
  • Smaller footprints and energy savings – Virtualization reduces the size of Data Center resources, significantly reducing rack space and because you are running fewer machines, lowering energy costs. Reduced rack space also lowers Data Center costs and maintenance. Virtual networks don’t sprawl over as many machines, making it easier to create segmented subnets when servicing different companies or satisfying regulatory requirements, such as segmenting credit card processing for Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) implementations.
  • Portability and migration– Virtualization makes it easy to move hardware configurations or copy hardware configurations between different hardware. Migration capabilities make it easier to migrate or clone machines to a different environment for business continuity, high availability, disaster recovery, or to create test or QA environments.
  • Reduced application installation, upgrades, and maintenance – Application virtualization allows you to install critical applications on far fewer servers, provide quicker application upgrades, and maintain fewer copies of applications for users.
  • Increasing IT operations efficiency – Tasks such as server and workstation deployment, setup, and maintenance that used to take days or months, can be accomplished in minutes or hours, freeing IT Ops to focus on more business specific tasks. Your IT staff becomes more efficient and productive.
  • Increased hardware utilization – Storage virtualization allows you to pool existing storage into a single storage pool, allowing you to repurpose and reuse existing storage, rather than having to decommission old storage. Running multiple VMs on a single machine increases the utilization of a server, running the server to its full capability.
  • Easier migration to the cloud – Because virtualization technologies separate or abstract IT processing away from its underlying hardware and software environment, virtualization makes it easier to move processing to a cloud environment.

When introduced, virtualization was a revolutionary concept. Now, it’s a critical network infrastructure tool that a necessity for modern Data Centers, paving the way for running your server and client environment anywhere and anytime, especially in the cloud.

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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Joe Hertvik

Joe Hertvik

Joe Hertvik works in the tech industry as a business owner and an IT Director, specializing in Data Center infrastructure management and IBM i management.

Joe owns Hertvik Business Services, a content strategy business that produces white papers, case studies, and other content for the tech industry. Joe has produced over 1,000 articles and other IT-related content for various publications and tech companies over the last 15 years.

Joe also provides consulting services for IBM i shops, Data Centers, and Help Desks.

Joe can be reached via email at joe@joehertvik.com, or on his web site at joehertvik.com.