Virtualization: Virtualization in and Beyond the Cloud

Virtualization technology might be driving the cloud computing environment, but that’s just one of its many benefits.

Joshua Hoffman

Virtualization is certainly not new. There has been consistent development of virtualization technology and capabilities for the past decade. The resulting intersection of increased functionality of virtualization software, increased power of computing hardware, and increased availability of network bandwidth has helped virtualization break through.

And that has helped drive the virtualization-centric move to cloud computing. Now, cloud computing is certainly a powerful, transformational change in the information technology industry. The benefits are real, and quite substantial. With the near-constant conversation about cloud computing, though, it’s possible we might have lost sight of some of the other benefits of virtualization technology.

You can leverage virtualization in numerous aspects of your computing infrastructure. Public cloud computing has many benefits, but there are also ways you can continue to benefit from virtualization in your own datacenter and on your desktop. There are also enhancements to virtualization you can expect in the future. These will continue to help you save time, energy and money.

Benefits of the Cloud

Let’s begin with a quick review of the core benefits of virtualization, particularly as we see them so frequently applied to the realm of cloud computing.

Reduce Infrastructure Costs: Migrating resources into the cloud—particularly public cloud computing, where a hosting company provides shared or dedicated hardware—delivers a significant bottom-line reduction in capital expenditure.

In other words, you don’t have to buy as much computing hardware. You don’t have to power, manage or maintain it on-premises. When you look at the total cost relative to computing power delivered, virtualization offers significant cost benefits as a result of shared resources and elastic scalability. These cost savings can be a boon to your budget, particularly in difficult economic conditions.

Elastic Scalability: When conducting capacity planning and analysis, we often design IT infrastructure for the “worst case”—laying out architecture capable of handling the greatest possible load under the worst possible conditions. For example, you might design your Web infrastructure to be capable of handling your online retail traffic and transaction load during the end-of-year holiday season. Do you really need to manage and maintain servers sufficient to serve that capacity all year round?

Migrating those temporary workloads to the cloud lets you benefit from the elastic scalability of virtualization. You can add additional capacity whenever you need it, and easily and cleanly decommission it when you don’t. The majority of cloud solution providers charge on a pay-for-use basis, so this can also deliver a significant benefit to your bottom line by reducing your costs during lower-utilization times.

Redundancy and Reliability: You have to ensure your technology systems meet the needs of your users. That’s your primary mission. Your complex systems will, at some point, encounter instability. Whether your hardware fails, your network connection drops or your datacenter goes down in severe weather, there will be issues.

Virtualization gives you an additional layer of flexibility to quickly respond to these challenges. Critical business systems are self-contained within their virtualized environment, so you can easily replicate them to multiple physical locations or migrate them to new hardware any time. This gives you improved reliability by eliminating failure points. It also enhances your disaster recovery planning efforts.

Reduce Your Datacenter Costs

There are some workloads you’ll want to maintain and run in your own datacenter. Whether you prefer to maintain exclusive possession of your data or implement custom solutions, or because the cost/benefit analysis simply tips in favor of keeping it in-house, there are good reasons to continue to operate and manage your own applications and servers.

Fortunately, doing so doesn’t necessarily deprive you of the benefits of the cloud. You can still adopt a cloud-like architecture in your own datacenter. This concept is known as a “private cloud.” There are a number of different ways you can leverage virtualization technology and private cloud architecture to help realize the most value from your infrastructure investment.

Server Consolidation: Virtualization at its most basic level lets you use one server in situations where you would have needed two, four, six or even more. The benefits to server consolidation are wide-ranging. First and foremost, you have less hardware to manage. You also reduce the risk of service interruption as the result of hardware failure.

While you’ll have fewer hardware components to risk failure, you’re relying on the hardware you have left to host a larger proportion of your services. However, you can easily migrate virtual workloads across physical resources. This helps offset the risk associated with consolidating services.

Server consolidation also helps with an often-overlooked expense: the electricity bill. Each processor consumes electricity, and creates a ripple effect in power consumption by supporting peripherals, devices and cooling systems. Reducing the number of physical CPUs in your datacenter can help you realize direct cost savings on your energy bill. This is beneficial not only to your budget, but to the environment as well.

There are numerous additional resources to help guide you through the server-consolidation process, including “How to Save on Power Consumption by Consolidating Servers Using Virtualization,” the “Hyper-V Planning & Deployment Guide” and the “Hyper-V Cloud Architecture and Sizing Guide.”

Reducing Complexity: Virtualization helps you reduce the number of servers you need to manage every day, but also helps you simplify management of your remaining servers. By centralizing services, you can more easily maintain operational insight into the condition of your servers, and ensure optimal server utilization by balancing workloads to achieve the greatest possible efficiency.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager gives you a powerful platform for managing those virtual workloads. It lets you maintain a library of virtual machine (VM) templates. It also facilitates rapid-burst scalability (adding additional capacity during times of heavy workloads), workload balancing, physical-to-virtual migration and related tasks.

Testing and Development: One of the great unsung benefits of virtualization technology is the ability to rapidly create, dismantle or recreate a testing and development sandbox environment. VMs exist as self-contained files, so you can easily create templates of your common desktop and server configurations. This saves you the time of installing base components like OSes.

You can add as many as you need to test a new component, create multiple variations to test different configurations and so on. You can also share virtualized configurations (the VHD files that represent the hard drive of the virtualized machine). This eases the testing process for your whole team.

Increased Flexibility on the Desktop

The impact of virtualization isn’t limited to server consolidation or the datacenter. As workplace configurations change, more users are mobile or working remotely. There’s an increased need for flexibility in how you deliver applications and functionality. There are a number of ways you can leverage virtualization technology to deliver those benefits.

User State Virtualization: There’s always a risk inherent in business-critical data being stored on end-user machines. If a machine is lost, stolen or damaged, the cost in lost data and productivity often far exceeds the value of the machine itself.

Through user state virtualization (USV) technologies, such as Roaming Profiles and Folder Redirection, you can ensure that all user data is stored securely on centralized servers where you can back it up and protect it on a regular basis.

USV also gives your users the convenience of being able to access their data from any workstation. Their personal settings and data are also seamlessly available on any new machine or in any new location.

Application Virtualization: Deploying, managing and maintaining line-of-business applications can be one of the most costly and time-consuming aspects of client computing. Yet Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) lets you virtualize applications, as well.

This helps you package, deploy and maintain applications in a centralized and streamlined way. App-V lets your users access any authorized application from any authorized device. Combined with USV, App-V lets you deliver a seamless end-user experience, while streamlining software maintenance and licensing practices.

OS Virtualization: Just as you can virtualize an entire server environment, you can also deliver a complete desktop computing experience. Using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Remote Desktop Services session virtualization, you can give your users anywhere access to a personalized, on-demand desktop computing environment, complete with their own applications and data.

When you add RemoteFX, introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, VDI becomes a full-fidelity experience. RemoteFX gives you a 3D virtual adapter, intelligent codecs and the ability to redirect USB devices within VMs. There are also solutions such as Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, or MED-V, which uses virtualization technology to help mitigate application-compatibility issues on the desktop, removing barriers to OS upgrades.

The benefits of virtualization technology continue to grow. They certainly aren’t limited to the public cloud. By leveraging virtualization solutions across your infrastructure—from the public cloud to your datacenter and desktops—you can realize savings in both time and money. You can also increase flexibility and agility.

Joshua Hoffman

Joshua Hoffman is the former editor in chief of TechNet Magazine. He is now a Windows Client technology specialist for Microsoft in New York City.