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Data Center Virtualization

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Data center virtualization typically uses virtualization software along with cloud computing technology to replace traditional physical servers and other equipment housed in a physical data center.

A data center that uses virtualization in data centers, sometimes referred to as a Software Defined Data Center (SDCC), allows organizations to control their entire IT framework as a singular entity—and often from a central interface. The approach can trim capital and operational costs; improve agility, flexibility and efficiency; save IT staff time and resources; and allow businesses to focus on core business and IT issues.

Research firm MarketersMedia reports that the global data center virtualization market is projected to grow by 8 percent annually from 2017 through 2023. That would make data center virtualization a U.S. $10 billion market. Virtualization of a data center and all its hardware components—including servers, storage, and appliances—isn’t a new concept (it dates back to the 1960s). But now, advances in cloud computing, software and other components have made the concept viable and even desirable.

Understanding Virtualization of the Data Center

Understanding what virtualization of a data center means is critical to proper management of that facility. A number of related terms are used with the concept of virtualization—sometimes interchangeably. They may refer to the same thing, they sometimes overlap, and they also can mean something different. These include:

  • Server virtualization. This approach to virtualization abstracts the physical hardware by creating a virtual server, typically running in a cloud infrastructure. This masks server resources, processors and operating systems. Server virtualization uses a hypervisor to coordinate processes and instructions with the central processing unit (CPU). A virtual server can operate on-premises or offsite in a virtual data center.
  • Big Data virtualization. This technique of Big Data virtualization produces a virtual framework for big data systems. It transforms logical data assets into virtual assets. This abstraction layer makes it easier to access data, it typically speeds data access, and it simplifies the management of data.
  • Virtualization in the data center. This framework, as the name implies, abstracts all physical elements of a data center and creates virtual elements. It can eliminate the need for a physical space to house hardware.
  • Virtual data center. This term refers to a pool of cloud-based servers and systems that operate as a single virtualized data center rather than a collection of physical assets.

In addition, there is sometimes confusion over other related terms, including this main term we're exploring:

  • Virtualization. The refers to all services that are separated from the physical hardware and delivery environment through the use of a hypervisor. Virtualization allows a physical server to run multiple computing environments.
  • Private cloud. This describes physical servers and devices that operate together within a single environment through the use of virtualization. Essentially, pooled virtualization resources create clouds.
  • Hybrid cloud.  Hybrid clouds, which may be comprised of both public and private clouds, may incorporate virtualization in different ways. As a result, changes in usage and resources may lead to performance and manageability issues.

Benefits of Virtualization

Virtualization enables virtual machines, which are a self-contained instance of software or an OS. They introduce a number of benefits.

  • Speed and flexibility. In many cases, virtual machines speed the delivery of services and they allow organizations to allocate computing resources more effectively.
  • Reduced capital costs. Organizations utilize servers and computing resources more effectively. This can push utilization rates from around 60 percent to upwards of 90 percent. This reduces the need for physical hardware and devices, along with software licenses.
  • Reduce operating costs. Fewer physical servers and devices often translates into reduce energy costs and lower heat buildup. In some cases, virtualization can help build a more efficient data center.
  • Reduced infrastructure and real estate requirements. Businesses that run virtualization at scale—and within large cloud frameworks—typically reduce the need for data center space or eliminate data centers altogether. In some cases, this can slash real estate and infrastructure costs to the tune of millions of dollars.

Challenges of Virtualization

Virtualization also presents a number of challenges. These include:

Resource management. Managing virtualized machines and the resulting IT environment can prove difficult. Although virtualization software from VMware and Microsoft is designed to simplify the task, it also introduces new complexities, including managing operating systems, microservices, containers and other elements. The result can be multiple dashboards and other elements.

Infrastructure. Network connections, network storage devices and storage capacity must all be sufficient—and dynamic enough—to support a virtualized environment, particularly a virtualized data center. 

Provisioning. Organizations can encounter challenges related to setting up hypervisors and provisioning virtual servers effectively and efficiently.

Managing software and other resources. Ensuring that updates and patches are applied effectively can prove difficult in a virtualized environment. There’s also a need to oversee libraries of code, script and containers.

How to Manage Data Center Virtualization

Although server virtualization is in some ways no different than overseeing physical servers, there are also some important differences. Organizations looking to maximize virtualization of a data center typically benefit by focusing on these key areas:

  • Embrace standardization. It’s vitally important to ensure that servers run the correct software and systems and that they are updated and patched correctly. In a virtualized environment, the challenges are multiplied, and a subpar physical infrastructure will undermine the virtual framework. Consequently, it’s critical to ensure that the right configurations, templates, containers and libraries are installed and that they reach across the entire environment.
  • Address sprawl. In many cases, the reason to adopt virtualization is to combat server sprawl. The irony is that virtualization, particularly virtualization of a data center, can create its own form of sprawl. People spin up and spin down virtual machines when they’re not actually needed. They consume resources that they don’t require. The answer is well-designed templates, auditing tools and educating teams and employees about how to use resources effectively.
  • Deploy the right administration and management tools. It’s important to use the right software and tools to manage virtualization—especially when running more than a single hypervisor. Although vendors such as Microsoft and VMware offer built in tools with their virtualization software, these products may not be robust enough to tackle the intricacies of server virtualization and virtualization of a data center. Many smaller vendors address gaps and missing features by providing deeper visibility into a virtual stack and arming IT with more powerful tools for identifying problems and managing virtual servers and systems.
  • Ensure that there is adequate network storage and optimized backups. Data storage and backups are both crucial task for any organization, but virtualization of a data center can present different challenges. Storage Area Networks (SANs) are a frequent choice for many organizations looking to tackle virtualization of a data center. But network attached storage (NAS) can work well too, and these devices are generally less expensive. Regardless of the exact approach, it’s important to understand what works best and how to size storage capacity to meet the requirements of a virtualized environment. This requires visibility into where virtual machines store disc images in a SAN or other network storage framework.

Data Center Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery and business continuity are challenging issues for any business. Server virtualization and virtualization of a data center can help an enterprise navigate the task more effectively. Among the benefits:

  • Faster backups and recovery. In many cases, it’s possible to accomplish the task in hours rather than day when data is virtualized.
  • Better visibility into assets. A well-designed virtualized environment with the right tools can aid in identifying and managing documents, files and other data.
  • Failover is simplified. If it’s necessary to switch to a redundant system or go back to a known working state, virtualization can help by speeding recovery time. It can also provide a platform for testing systems before moving software back into a production state.
  • The need for a smaller footprint. Fewer servers, storage and other devices translates directly into lower costs for disaster recovery.

Data Center Virtualization Products

Numerous companies compete in the virtualization space. So how should a buyer select a data center virtualization product?

Here's the core guiding principle: By focusing on what virtualization tools make sense and where they deliver the greatest value in virtualization of a data center, an organization can improve performance, trim costs and create a more efficient computing framework.

These range from large companies like Microsoft and VMware that sell virtualization platforms and tools to best-of-breed providers that sell software and tools to manage environments and address specific tasks. These include creating and managing templates, handling disaster recovery and addressing technical tasks such as provisioning and partitioning. There are also open source tools available to address various tasks related to virtualization in a data center.

In addition to the vendors named above, here are additional choices:

  • Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Data Services: The open source leader is a well respected name in the enterprise data center.
  • IBM InfoSphere Information Server: Arguably the leading legacy IT name, IBM certainly knows virtualization data centers.
  • NEC Nblock: NEC sells a solution that provides the building blocks to construct a virtual data center.
  • CDW Software Defined Data Center: The CDW solution aims to offer flexibility and scalability that covers the compete data center.


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