Wednesday, February 13, 2008

To virtualize or not: that is the question

Virtualization is hot. Vendors are screaming that their product is "virtualized". Hype? Curse or blessing? Questions which will give you tons of answers depending on who you ask.

Let's first address what virtualization is. "Virtually" according to the dictionary is "in essence or effect but not in fact" or "seems to be present". The best description I ever found on the internet what virtualization is in an IT environment was written by Willem Joustra and can be found on his blog. He does away with application virtualization for good. Leaves us with virtual hardware in the forms of virtual cpu, disk, networks, etc. and virtual operating systems.

So am I adding now more words to the (mostly technical) discussion already taking place? No, I want to see if this notion of virtualization can ultimately solve all the challenges the IT organization faces that are directly or indirectly related to physical instances of hardware and operating systems. Challenges in maintaining them through their operational life. Because I envision that the flexibility possible with virtualization will make total new concepts possible in IT, having a dramatic impact on how we view hardware and operating system. In the end, the user's only concern is application functionality.

The effect of virtualization to the user is already visable in networking, data storage and to some extent in servers (mainly in high-end and in mid-range, less in low-end). The only area which seems to be untouched is end-user devices. Yes, seems, because it exists and only due to the huge number of end-user devices it is not visible on a large scale.

Virtualization on an end-user devices (most common devices today are still desktop PCs and laptops) gives the possibility to take your created environment - your set of applications customized to your liking - from one device to another device without a major effort. You can actually keep the virtual hardware in your wallet! Just think of the freedom you now have. I am currently involved in creating a major change for schools on how to implement the IT based learning environment. Using this virtualization concept makes innovation possible on when and where children use their own learning environment without having to supply everyone with a laptop, which introduces a new series of problems instead of solving ones. This is just one of the examples.

Any discussion of the pro's and con's of a particular virtualization technique in a product should be left to IT engineers to challenge their thinking and to product marketing managers who have nothing better to do. It is not something an user community has to worry about. If you have no need to be on the (b)leading edge, just wait 6 months, observe and you will be able to tell what product was hype and which ones stayed around. What the user community should worry about is how to break the conventional thinking on how use of machines fit into the total IT Architecture. Because machines can be easily virtualized without loosing functionality. That was discovered more then 35 years ago and still is applicable today.

© Peter Bodifée 2008. All rights reserved

No comments: