Friday, June 20, 2008

3 Part Series: Virtualization

This is the first part in a 3 part series on Virtualization. Today's part is an explanation on virtualization and the next 2 parts highlight two specific products that I feel are the best. I hope you like the information. I realize this post will be highly "information dense" but the next 2 will be more product/site based. Enjoy!

Virtualization. This is a very important word for the future of computing (business computing especially). Virtualization (in the terms we are talking) is the creation of psuedo-partitions on a hard disk upon which an operating system can be installed (virtualized) and used. Basically, it is the creation of an operating system that runs within an existing operating system through some application (i.e. VMware, Virtual Desktop, etc). It really isn't a very complicated idea from this standpoint. For example, I run Mac OS X and I virtualize Windows XP, Windows Vista, and most any Linux distro on my computer so that I can use some of the programs that only run on Windows and play with Linux.

So why is virtualization important for corporate computer needs? Great question. Think about what it takes to run a corportate network. There are lots and lots of computers and monitors, each computer has its own hard drive and is attached to the network where some central storage exists. Think about a big company like Google. They require A LOT of storage space for all of their computers AND their business processes. They offer online storage as a service to people like me, but also they have to keep records and store a lot of stuff. Where do they get their storage space? They have to buy it from third party vendors. This is a costly proposition when you consider the amount of storage needed (petabytes, someday exabytes). If a company like Google can save on the amount of space their operating systems take up on storage, they can save a lot of clams. The Solution: virtualize data and virtualize storage. Google can (and does) buy software that virtualizes storage drives in one storage drive for many operating systems at once. Check out the diagram. Each box represents a physical storage volume. Can you see how the numerous OS (operating system) volumes are combined into one, centralized disk? Now, rather than 3 volumes you have 1. Think of this on a LARGE scale: rather than thousands of volumes, you have a few.

Further, virtualization software is able to centralize key components of each operating system (i.e. the kernel - the basic building block of the operating system) and share it over the operating systems. This DRAMATICALLY cuts down on the amount of storage needs. I have heard that through proper vitualization, firms can save up to 90% storage space (from a very knowleadgable source that works for NetApp - a storage company). That is huge when you consider the amount of dollar savings associated. As Harry Caray would say: "Holy Cow."

So how does virtualization affect you and me? I use virtualized operating systems everyday (as I mentioned) so that I have further functionality on my computer. Truthfully, though, it doesn't have to affect us unless we want it to. If you are a part of a major corporation, chances are they are using virtualization to some extent. If you just like to play with stuff like I do, then virtualization is fun. If you would like to learn how to use other operating systems to expound your horizons, virtualization is an easy way to do it. Its great. Even better, if one day you will own a major company or corporation and be making millions of dollars and want to make more dollars, you will be using virutalized storage and software. If you want to know if your company utilizes this technology, ask your IT guy or gal. They would probably love to talk about it, and you might impress them with your newfound knowledge.

That's it for this post: a very, VERY basic description of virtualization. The main type of virtualization we will talk about in Parts 2 and 3 are operating system virtualization and we will focus on specific products of VMware (i.e. Workstation and Fusion). If you want more information about read this, this, or this... or watch this.

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