Virtualization is Not Cloud…But Does Make It Shine

By Miha Ahronovitz

August 31, 2010

The reason why the clouds came into being and their functionality created such high demand is because most large IT shops were asking themselves “Why does Google make all the money; why does Yahoo make so much—and why don’t we? Can’t we have, in-house, that same model?”

After all, Google might have JBOD (Just a Bunch of Datacentres), so what magic did they use to deliver us, from behind an opaque wall, away from all the abstraction with transparent service and elasticity?

To get to the heart of those questions, Jonathan Lampe spends some time discussing the concept of elasticity. If you ask me, this is the single most important feature of a cloud and part of what separates it so distinctly from the grid. The grids did not have elasticity–all a grid did was to implement policies in sharing a limited number of resources in a fair way.

This means that if I am small-dog user, I am thrown out from the execution space to a holding queue, each time a very big dog user needs the resources. This also means the quality of service is awful in the grid. It is like taking a shower in an older hotel, when the water is either boiling hot or chilling cold, depending on how many guests are showering in their room at the same time.

Let’s revisit Jonathan Lampe’s view on this in the context of elasticity, when he states: “Elastic architecture” is a concept you will read about more frequently as time goes on. It refers to computer architecture designed such that applications with different roles in different tiers of an application can each intelligently (and elastically) scale up or down to meet processing requirements
.
 Jonathan uses as a reference this 2007 blog that looks back, stating:

A few months ago Amazon announced their new web service called EC2, which stands for Elastic Compute Cloud. The idea is pretty simple and powerful. You use an API call to “create” a server and install your software on it. Everything works like a real server, and if you need more power, you call the API again and request another server. If you no longer need the extra power, you shut the extra servers down (with an API call).  You only pay for the actual time you used each “created” server.  Amazon did not invent the concept, but they did make it trivial to use, and with their reputation on the line, they are committed to make it a reliable and competitive platform.

Elastic computing is the result of recent improvements made in the area of virtualization, which is the execution of multiple operating system entities on a single hardware. Image your desktop at home running Windows at the same time it is running Linux. Desktop virtualization is done in the form of one operating system hosting another (something Mac users are very familiar with running Windows inside OS X). Server virtualization is done by running a light virtualization operating system (usually Linux-based) which does not provide any other functionality besides hosting other platforms. Virtualization has reached a certain maturity lately thanks to significant improvements in hardware, mostly in  built-in CPU support for sharing the same hardware between multiple operating systems. 

This is the most lucid simple story of what is EC2. Amazon already operates the largest online store on earth, so the elasticity was big issue for them before it was an issue for everybody else. It was business first. But the genius of Jeff Bezos made this an exercise in the lateral thinking and considered… Gee, if we created this, what not sell the cycles as already do sell books or TVs?” And it was this superb execution that led to Amazon EC2.

The virtualization was never an end in itself, just the means. It so happened that it was handy. At the beginning, virtualization was weak for production use. This is when VMware and XEN opened the eyes and exclaimed, “wow, the cloud, needs us!”

And so we can conclude that the cloud business model does not necessarily need virtualization. Virtualization was an opportunistic tool. The software virtualization companies must continue to make themselves needed via constant improvement. The cloud needs elasticity and irtualization is part of the game for now.

We have an analyst-supplied historic log of virtualization predictions, summarized from 2006 to 2010. In 2006 no one talked about clouds, but about “the IT consolidation market”. Gartner predicted 50% of the workloads will be virtualized in 2010, but “60% of virtualized servers will be less secure than the physical servers they replace.” Supposedly, the cloud infrastructure will have to compensate this basic flaw the server virtualization has by definition.

No wonder  Tech Target’s number one prediction for virtualization in 2010 is disaster recovery (DR).

“Although virtualization provides a backup of sorts, it is not a foolproof method. If one virtual server goes down, it can take hundreds of virtual machines (VMs) with it — bringing enterprise operations to a screeching halt. Having a solid DR plan in place and examining each aspect will make all the difference.”

The DR function is part of many cloud implementatios. This is why, the software virtualization in the cloud needs assistance from the cloud itself.

What about hardware based virtualization? The newest player is Intel who will offer very fast virtualization extension in hardware  processors. The military used already CPUs made by Intel with embedded virtualization  since 2009. 

The advances being made today by CPU makers and hypervisor developers are helping to define the way for future virtualization platforms. New CPU extensions are not only helping to meet the high-performance requirements of future systems, but they’re also making it easier to implement and support legacy operating systems.

In years to come, implementations such as VT-x and VT-d will play an increasingly important role in virtualized systems as industry adopts these types of implementations as effective hardware assistance standards for future CPU architectures.

The original paper on Intel hardware virtualization was published in 2006. The most recent news on Intel virtualization are summrized here

Intel® Xeon® Processor 5000 Sequence has the virtualization technology in place. Here are the benefits as specified by Intel.

• Enables more operating systems and software to run in today’s virtual environments.

• Developed with virtualization software providers to enable greater functionality and  compatibility compared to non-hardware-assisted virtual environments.

• Get the performance and headroom to improve the average virtualization performance over previous generations of two-processor servers.

We have no official news from software virtualization ISV on how their future release will be optimized for Intel processors, yet the results will be spectacular for the both enterprise and home users.

AMD Virtualization (AMD-V™) Technology is also listed on their website

August 7, 2010, an article from Federal Circle, made the following predictions for 2010 virtualization:

Hardware advancements will simplify and help increase penetration of virtualization. I/O Virtualization and direct device access will be focus areas for this year and specific hardware enhancements will remove storage and network bottlenecks. This will allow increased VM (virtual machine) density and better performance. The improvements will enable virtualization of critical workloads without compromising performance. This would enhance utilization and ensure increased RoI (return on investment) for virtualization investments.

The reason 3PAR is the object of an intense bidding between Hewlett Packard and Dell, is because elastic storage, virtual and scalable in a cloud. They are the first, in their storage hardware software combinations working the wonders.

A laptop from HP or Dell needs to have some minimal but extremely fast flash drives. Large heavy internal hard drives will be a thing of the past. Simply every user can have any storage capacity, virtual and  scalable, in the HP or Dell storage clouds based on 3PAR. HP and Bell can update directly all software on the laptop and make connections to any other cloud.

Once married with hardware, the software virtualization will make itself part of the cloud building structures, paving the road to science-fiction-like technological products
 

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