Why You Should Care About Virtualization (Part 1)

With this first post (well, technically, it’s the second post) I suppose the proper place to start is at the most logical place, the beginning. And I believe the beginning is to answer the simple question, “What is virtualization and why the heck should I care about it?” I get asked this question quite a bit and, not surprisingly, it’s often by people who are not in the IT department.

I have the fortuitous opportunity to work with some of the largest companies in the world and, believe me, the guys I work with on a daily basis are well aware of the benefits of virtualization.  Trust me, these guys have drank Kool-Aid and they are shoving virtualization down the throats of anyone within earshot, and certainly anyone they have authority over.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and every so often I run into someone who simply doesn’t get it.  Actually, in my humble opinion, it’s not even that that don’t get it, I believe they’re afraid of it.  And because they’re afraid of it, they bury their head in the sand and don’t make any effort to understand it. But, I digress.

Having said this, I have a sneaky suspicion that there area ton of people out there who have heard about virtualization, aren’t necessarily afraid of it, but don’t fully understand what it is or, more importantly, how deep and wide the benefits of virtualization extend.  So, before I start to address the benefits of virtualization, let me clearly answer the second part of my original question, which is, “why should you care?”

No matter who you are or what your role is, virtualization has the power to absolutely and, quite dramatically, affect your productivity, your career and your company.

Now, even when I read that statement, I almost don’t believe it.  If I had heard it for the first time, I would have laughed and written it off as ramblings from someone who obviously needed psychiatric attention. After all, technology has quite often been more of a pain in the a$$ than anything else, right? I certainly know that I get all kinds of pissed off when the email server goes down or when the information I need is unavailable due to a server crash.

But before you completely disregard my statement, remember that your perception is based upon an assumption that the “problematic” technology was built upon a proper foundation.  Er, uh, before I bring anyone’s job into question, let me say that it’s not that that the foundation was incorrectly built at the time. Rather, virtualization is relatively new and it’s breaking all the rules, creating a completely new kind of foundation.

You see, it’s not that your email server is fundamentally flawed (though, it could be), but a weak foundation will crumble the strongest fortress. Conversely (and here’s an added bonus of virtualization), a solid foundation will support the weakest outhouse (figuratively speaking of course, I’m not *really* calling your email server a piece of crap).

Ok, ok, ok, ok, I’m rambling. You get my point and I assume you’re itchin’ for me to move along. But I still haven’t explained what virtualization is, which is something I should probably do before going into the specific benefits that will improve your life.  So here is my own personal definition … wait for it … wait for it … ready?  “As if.”

Huh? Yep, “as if.”  Virtualization allows people and things to operate / function / interact “as if” they were real.  Let me give you an example.  A VPN (a virtual private network) is something you’re probably very familiar with.  And what does a VPN do?  It allows you to communicate with the home office as if you were really there.  Another example?  Okay, how about virtual reality?  It allows you to interact with a game or a movie as if it were real (actually, I think this is a bad example because I haven’t found a single virtual reality game that comes even close to feeling real … but you get the point).  So how does this translate to information technology?  Well, virtualization creates a foundation that allows servers, applications, storage and networks to function as if they were real or physical.

A key point to make here is that virtualization is, as it should be, completely transparent.  To the user (or to the OS, application, etc.) there is no difference between a virtual server and a physical server. There’s no need to completely retrain your users on how to use a virtual server and you’re not going to get 1000 support calls after converting a physical server to a virtual server.  A properly built virtual infrastructure will have no adverse effects and will only serve to position your infrastructure for a slew of upside benefits.

And I want to stress the word “properly.”  Because an improperly built virtual infrastructure could have exponentially more problems than a physical infrastructure, forcing you to pray to the virtual gods for a quick and painless death.  And if for some reason you decide to ignore this warning and go convert all your servers to virtual machines without any further guidance or preparation, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough to come back for part two, where I’ll go into all the benefits you’ll receive by creating a solid virtual platform.  And believe me, there are a ton of ’em.  So I hope to see you back here soon.  Until then, check out some of the links to other virutalization blogs I have listed on the right hand side of this page.  I think you’ll find them valuable.