Virtualization, why your next upgrade should have it

Virtualization, Hyper-V, Intel VT, Hypervisor… You may have heard these terms thrown around a lot lately when it comes to computers. But what does it all really mean and how can it help you?

Let’s start with the basics, what is virtualization? Virtualization is the configuration of taking a single computer / server and using its resources to act like two or more computers / servers. Picture it like a duplex home. You have a single physical structure that has been split up to provide two homes. Or a quadplex, a single physical structure that is split up to provide four homes. This is the basic idea of how virtualization works.

There has always been that person out there you can just never get along with. No matter how hard you try to ignore them they just seem to get under your skin and you can’t function when they’re around. Sadly the same thing seems to apply to some software, not matter how hard you try certain software just cannot run on the same computer as another piece of software. The solution to this problem has always been to buy two different servers and run the software on two different computers. With the two servers you have doubled your cost in hardware, potential hardware problems, and IT costs in maintaining two separate machines. This is where virtualization comes in. Now you can take that one computer and create two virtual servers so that those pieces of software, which never got along before on the same computer, can now be run on the same hardware. They’ll be locked up in their own half of the house and never have to speak to each other again.

So now you’ve taken that single computer and made it into two servers. Great, now I have two servers that are half the speed, this sucks! This is where Intel VT (Virtualization Technology) and a Hypervisor come in to play. Intel’s Virtualization Technology is hardware-assisted virtualization that works with software like a Hypervisor. (Keep going, your head will stop spinning soon!) A Hypervisor is a type of virtualization software whose whole purpose is to be the middle man between virtual machines and the actual computer hardware. So when combining the Hypervisor with hardware-assisted virtualization you get a solution that doesn’t just chop up that computer into two halves, it is able to expand and adjust to provide each virtual machine more power even though you have overcommitted the physical hardware of the computer. Let’s take a look at that duplex again. In our original example let’s say it’s a 4000 sq ft structure and is chopped up to be two 2000 sq ft homes. Now when using hardware-assisted virtualization and a hypervisor we can actually take that 4000 sq ft structure and provide two 3500 sq ft homes. Or that quadplex, we can take the same 4000 sq ft structure and make 4, 3000 sq ft homes! Ok, so in real life that will never work, but welcome to the possibilities of virtualization.

We were able to get those 4 different servers down into a single box saving a bunch of money, what about all those old desktops and end users that keep having problems? Almost everyone has been holding back doing any major upgrades on desktop computers; many people are limping along on old hardware that just can’t get the job done. With the release of Windows 7 the need to upgrade and the looming migration costs are knocking on the door. In comes VDI (Virtual Desktop Interface) to save the day. VDI is just like it sounds, we just talked about virtual servers, now we’re going to go virtual on those desktops too. With VDI we eliminate the need to upgrade any of those existing desktops and make the ability to migrate to Windows 7 a dream world. The desktops don’t need quite the same consistent computing power as the server so we can take that one decent new server and make 10, 20, even 100 virtual desktops!

When running in a VDI configuration the desktop or laptop users will just need to install and run a small client that connects to your pool of virtual desktops. They will be provided a nice shiny desktop with all their normal preferences, files, etc. Since the virtual desktop is running on the server there is no need to do any upgrade on their existing hardware. The VDI client has very little overhead and will likely run on whatever hardware they have now. We are now able to provide any type of virtual desktop we’d like to the end users, this can be a new Windows 7 desktop, keep that familiar Windows XP going, or even Linux for those special occasions.

Great, so how do I deal with managing all of these desktops? The answer is sitting right there on one of your virtual servers! With most VDI management software you get a simple server interface that lets you provision, manage, update, and do about anything to those virtual desktops individually or en mass. Sick of pushing out those Windows updates to all the computers? No problem, you can maintain a base underlying image for your virtual desktops, install the updates on that single desktop, then have it copy out and be running on all the virtual desktops. No installs for each computer, no failed installations, you install it once and it’s done. Need to create a desktop for a new user? Instead of taking hours to complete the install of the Operating System, installing all the programs, running all the updates, how would you like taking under 10 minutes to create a new virtual machine from your image that has all updates and necessary programs installed? Plug in any desktop or laptop onto the network, install and run the VDI client, have the new user login in to their virtual desktop and they’re off and running.

For all those that have been reluctant to go for that upgrade recently virtualization may just be that cost effective approach we’ve all been looking for to get it done.

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