Posted by: Kevin Prefontaine, Enterprise Infrastucture Architect, Information Technology Division
“Virtual” is a buzzword used frequently in today’s technology age. As a result of the vast interest in this flavor of technology, IT Experts have tried to simulate or “virtualize” almost every human experience. As a musician, I have seen the virtualization of all of the tools of the trade for guitar players including vintage vacuum tube powered amplifiers from the 1960’s. We even have virtual pets that can be cared for on our “smartphones”. Some of these virtualizations avoid the headache and downsides of the experiences they simulate. They can be enjoyable but don’t quite capture the essence of the actual experience. For instance, playing a guitar through a $20 virtual guitar amplifier “app” on my iPhone can sound good, be really enjoyable, does not involve carrying around heavy equipment, and does not cost over $1000. But it does not render the same feeling one gets when standing in a room with a vintage tube guitar amplifier from the 1960’s anymore than playing a video game. But the difference between $20 and $1000 is certainly compelling. In the world of Enterprise IT, that kind of cost savings is also compelling.
Maturity Can Make the Experience Even Better
Fortunately, for those considering virtualization in the IT Enterprise world, the technology behind it has matured to a point where the experience of using virtual servers, desktops, and even storage can yield even better feature sets and performance than the physical equipment it simulates. Multiple virtual servers of various operating systems and purposes can be deployed on one physical server. These virtual servers are portable to other physical servers for flexibility. Compatibility is not an issue as the virtual servers are not hardware dependant. Performance and capacity can be optimized and tuned for enterprise applications.
“I Don’t Want a Dumb Terminal.”
The idea of Desktop Virtualization does give one an initial feeling of the thin client/dumb terminal approach used before PC’s took over our lives. Those older terminals were not so endearing to the end user, but desktop virtualization has reached a point where most of the capabilities of a modern PC are available in a virtual way. For instance, virtual desktop technology now allows for the use of usb ports. A thin client device can have usb ports that when used will be reflected in a virtual desktop “session” that is actually occurring remotely. Some benefits of Desktop Virtualization are similar to those rendered in virtual servers in terms of simpler provisioning and desktop management capabilities and efficiencies. An additional benefit is secure remote access to an enterprise desktop environment. If you can access the “session” from your thin client machine at your desk in a secure manner, then you can access that session securely elsewhere.
“Virtual Storage? Really?”
The idea of virtualized storage might seem a bit abstract at first, but upon closer consideration it can yield an Enterprise IT Organization great flexibility when provisioning and managing storage. The Commonwealth’s storage environment has become an ever-changing, evolving, and dynamic part of the infrastructure. With the second data center under construction in Springfield, and the continuing IT consolidation efforts taking place across the commonwealth, storage needs are more complex and dynamic than ever before. The tools that storage virtualization offers can help meet that challenge. Key amongst the benefits offered by storage virtualization is non-disruptive data migration. Data needs to be moved around within and between data centers in a fashion that keeps Enterprise applications running so that it is transparent to end users. Also of benefit is the concept of auto-tiering between various types of storage based on performance needs. This feature can keep track of a server or application’s use of storage and dynamically move it to a storage type that suits its performance needs. High performance applications would then become resident on ultra-fast Solid State Disks, while stagnant data would be relegated to slower, less expensive SATA disk storage. This process can also be done manually and allow movement between various storage types non-disruptively.
Last but not least, the costs that are saved by getting to this type of Enterprise Virtualized Infrastructure Environment are yielded in multiple areas including management efficiencies, and even energy costs saved by using less hardware. Also key are longer refresh cycles for server and client desktop hardware. One of the strategic goals of the Commonwealth’s IT Consolidation effort is to create efficiencies and maximize resources; Enterprise Infrastructure Virtualization is vital to facilitating an environment that can achieve this goal.