Virtualization: A Boon for Green Computing

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Virtualization makes a single piece of hardware function as multiple piecesAt the end of the 1970s, the world saw a computer revolution, and waves of new business development followed. By the early 1990s, there were signs of a green computing revolution, and now businesses are taking advantage of the industry’s need for environmentally-friendly products. Data centers, in particular, have become a target market, since the past few years have seen a sharp increase in their rate of energy consumption.

One of the more successful technologies to have been developed is virtualization. Broadly speaking, to virtualize is to make a single piece of hardware function as multiple pieces. Different user interfaces isolate portions of the hardware, and make each one operate as a separate entity. As applied to data centers, installing virtual infrastructure allows more operating systems and applications to run on fewer servers, which reduces overall energy use and cooling requirements. Running fewer servers also means that data centers could reduce their building size as well.

IBM pioneered virtualization in the 1960s, using it to partition mainframe computers. In 1998, VMware brought the technology to desktop computers and servers, and that company remains the industry leader today. Bogomil Balkansky, Senior Director of Product Marketing at VMware, said in an e-mail interview:

VMware customers can eliminate planned downtime by migrating virtual machines from one physical server to another, dynamically balance workloads across a farm of servers and provide automatic failover for virtualized applications. With innovations like these and rock-solid reliability, more than 100,000 customers and 87% of the Fortune 1000 rely on VMware to manage their infrastructure.

Resource allocation is automatically monitored and managed, and since virtualization can be expanded across groups of servers, it dramatically increases their ability to share resources. VMware reports that its customers are achieving 60-80% utilization rates on their hardware, up from 5-15%. Says Balkansky, “Customers can reduce energy costs and consumption by approximately $700, or 7,000 kWh, per server virtualized per year.”

Adopting virtualization does not require a large initial investment, as it can be installed directly onto existing hardware and operating systems. According to Balkansky, VMware products provide step-by-step wizard-based guides for installation, and also offer a feature called Guided Consolidation that allows first time users to quickly set up their virtualization environments. This makes server analysis and conversion nearly automatic.

There are signs that developments in virtual technology are still in their infancy. VMware has increased its virtualization product offerings to a total of 22. And other companies are forging into this territory as well. Notably, Sun Microsystems’ Solaris 10 Operating System, which won an InfoWorld 2008 Technology of the Year Award for Most Innovative Server OS, utilizes Solaris Containers to incorporate built-in virtualization. Also, according to a Reuters news article dated January 21, Microsoft Corp has purchased a company called Calista Technologies (and is working in conjunction with Citrix Systems) with the intent of making virtual desktops and applications available to their customer base.

Image credit: VMware


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