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VirtualDay 2007 March 27, 2007

Posted by theoxymoron in Computer.
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Today I was at the VirtualDay 2007 conference in Zurich to learn more about the concepts of virtualization of servers, storage and operating systems. All in all I have to say that the location and organization of the event was good but the delivered content of each session didn’t meet all of our expectations. I tried to take one page of notes of each session to recall the content later.

The introduction was made by Dennis Zimmer from Mightycare Solutions. He spoke about why virtualization is so important and mentioned reasons like cost reduction, less administrative work  and easy backup procedures. Most active on the market are currently VMWare with others like Xen (Source) or SWsoft and Microsoft but there are some more. Further we heard about trends and technologies in the future like the “virtualization grid”.
For me this keynote speech was a little to detail orientated. Especially the first talk of the morning should be a more general overview of all topics covered by the event and so it would have been more helpful to start the day :-).

The second session I attended was from Christian Morf (HP) “Solutions and Trends for the virtualized data center“. It was about the expectations of HP, expectations of customers, about trends and risks in technology and the blade architecture in detail. He talked about differences and advantages of blade vs. rack or 2 vs. 4 socket architecture. In the end he introduced the new virtual connect system from HP which makes it more easy to change hardware in a running environment by using a “server profil”.
Again this talk was very detail orientated (a large part was about 2/4 socket architecture and CPUs and which is faster) and I think because of the title of this session “Solutions & Trends for the virtualized data center” many people expected a general overview of different strategies or trends as a whole.

The third session “PlateSpin: Disaster Recovery” by Christian Ellger was about the interesting concept of using virtual machines as backup servers. Their philosophy is “anywhere to anywhere”.  With the software it is possible to migrate from a physical to a virtual server and also the way back to the physical server. So if it turns out that the virtualization doesn’t work as expected it is possible to go back to the physical machines. It’s also possible to make images of physical and virtual machines and migrate them in any “direction”: P2P -> V2V -> I2I -> P2P
The software is independent of any hardware manufacturer and helps to find the servers which are most likely the ones you should consider to consolidate.

After that I attended “Windows Virtualization” by Sommerhalder and Pitrof. The speech was about the new concepts of Microsoft and the roadmap of Microsoft Virtual Server and the System Center. Pithof talked about Longhorn in detail and the new installation alternative “Server Core” which is nothing more than a command line box. The core server comes with the four roles DNS, DHCP, File and AD and the size is less then 1 GB. On top of that the virtualization should be installed with the parent-partition with Longhorn and different virtual machines which work as “children”. These could be windows or other operating systems. The system center is on top of all virtual machines and manages all resources and workloads. Some advantages are scalability, hot add hardware, page sharing, scripting the boot order.

After lunch I went to the session “DataCore: Basics and Concepts of storage-virtualization” by J. Schweinsberg. The idea was : “Storage On Demand” or “Storage as Shared Business Resource” because it is hard to define the amount of storage you need in the future so it would be nice to add or allocate storage on demand. If you buy new harddisks 25% of the costs are for the disk, 70% for the software and the controller and 5% for cables. If you invest in a upgrade of your harddisks you always buy the controllers again which increases the costs. So the idea is to separate the disks with the help of a virtualization-layer. This layer or “virtual disk” is between the actual storage and the server. The good thing is that the virtual disk doesn’t have to be of the same size as the actual physical space. So it is possible to do some overbooking for example your virtual machines could use in total 12TB even if there is only 1TB of physical disk space (I have to recheck how this works exactly).
See http://www.storageperformance.org/home for some benchmarks or datacore.com for case studies.The price range for the solutions are from $8000 to $100000 (unlimited licence).

The last two session were case studies. The first one was from the Klinikum München by O. Schütz which uses a Datacore solution with VMWare and a SAN. The second one was from Allianz Suisse by Alex Weber. This solution was implemented on a HP Blade system with VMWare ESX Server. Interesting is that both are using the virtualization software VMWare however the hardware and storage/backup solutions depend on the different requirements. 

All in all it was an interesting and informative day although we thought we could gain more from the event. I can say now that there is no single solution for the questions of how, If and what to virtualize or backup and restore. One has to carefully evaluate which solution fits the specific requirements best and of course it also depends on the budget.

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