Open source virtualisation: Who's biting?

Open source in sever virtualisation

Server virtualisation stats

The rising tide of server virtualization use will lift all boats, including the use of open-source software. There are approximately 5.8 million virtual machines in use today, but by 2012 that number will grow to 58 million, a tenfold leap, Gartner says.

Percentage of servers that run virtualisation now - 19%

Percentage of servers that will run virtualisation next year - 28%

Percentage of servers that will run virtualisation in 2012 - 50%

Source: Gartner Group

Before it was virtualized, the Blackboard Vista application ran on 40 separate Solaris-based application servers. Today the number of physical servers running the application has shrunk to 5 and performance has quadrupled, Poole says.

By using Oracle VM to virtualize Blackboard Vista, Poole says, We've seen a very significant reduction in hardware while at the same time dramatically improving upon performance and scalability." Poole estimates that the difference in the cost of the hardware alone was nearly $300,000.

(Some Oracle customers have recently complained about the vendor's virtualization-support policies, however.)

But before going with open-source virtualisation, it's important to have a staff with the right Linux/Unix background, recommends Richard Cote, systems architect and technical lead at the University of Massachusetts.

"If I were making a decision at a small company that only had Windows-savvy tech administrators I'd probably look at VMware or HyperV if I did not have a Linux or Unix group to support me. If you come from a traditional Unix-savvy staff then you're going to be drawn toward Xen," Cote says.

Small businesses may find much to like

Server virtualisation growth is expected to increase in small- to mid-size businesses, and there, too, open source could gain a foothold.

Gartner classifies small business as companies with 20 to 99 employees and less than $50 million in revenue. Mid-size companies have 100 to 999 employees and $50 to $500 million in revenue. "We expect the [SMB] growth rate for virtualisation adoption to be higher than the overall market through 2012," Dayley says.

And even companies that are using VMware and/or Microsoft's HyperV may still find a place for open source.

Interactive One, a New York-based division of Radio One, provides Web properties for millions of African Americans and has split its IT infrastructure in two. Its office environment uses VMware to run Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Windows File Server. On the production side, to power the Web sites, the company has deployed Oracle VM.

(Managing multiple virtualization suppliers can be problematic, users and analysts say.)

"We weren't a good candidate for VMware's advanced functionality because these boxes aren't mission critical, single-point-of-failure systems," says Nicholas Tang, Interactive One's vice president of technical operations. "As a result, we don't do a lot of VM-level clustering and automated failover."

After discussing the possibility of using VMware for the firm's production environment, Tang's assessment was simple: "VMware doesn't do any better job than Xen does for . . . quickly building a virtual environment and efficiently reallocating resources. VMware cost two or three times more than what we paid for Oracle VM, and in the end it wasn't worth it."

Since using Oracle VM, Tang says, he's retired 60 servers, has realized greater utilization of resources and is using open-source tools like Fedora's Cobbler, a network installation tool, and other software like cfengine, a configuration management tool, to build more functionality into the company's virtual server environment.

While analysts continue to speculate, and vendors continue to improve their products, in the end, IT managers will have to make up their minds based on their needs.

"Customers have to do the tests, ask themselves will it work in their IT environment and will it meet their business requirements at the right price and with the right skills," LAO's Yazhemsky says.

Nicole Lewis is a technology and business writer. She can be reached at lewis_nicole@bellsouth.net.

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