Virtualization & Abstraction : The New Paradigm

This post is inspired by this outstanding post by Chuck Hollis (@chuckhollis) and this one by Chad Sakac (@sakacc).

Chuck mentions my favorite way to summarize what virtualization encompasses: “abstracts logical from physical”. What makes abstraction critical is that it breaks historical dependencies that develop as technologies are built over time. I have said this phrase hundreds of times over the last four years of my career and in my mind it translates into an incredible paradigm shift in data center approach over the next ten years.

A good example of this is the push to service-oriented architecture design principles in the enterprise application space over the last decade. The whole gist was to enable business functionality to achieve independence and agility by breaking hard coded dependencies to platforms and systems. A loosely-integrated system can provide value to multiple business units by removing the overhead of inherited designs. Any ability to move quickly to market with business features brings competitive advantage. In simple terms, removing boundaries opens more opportunities.

Virtualization is the same approach with the end goal of the four food groups (CPU, memory, storage, networking) becoming commodities that can used as needed and where needed.  The status quo has been large CapEx investments in infrastructure where efficiency was limited by the boundaries of the physical needs and the return on labor cost to optimize. Even with a large team invested in tuning and sizing, the organic growth of the business can waste resources quickly as usage patterns change and new infrastructure is purchased.

The virtualization of hardware resources, effectively coupled with the ability to treat hardware as single pools, removes that physical boundary. This allows single investment in infrastructure resources to be carved up for multiple needs. It also allows the refactoring and control of these resources without the large operational cost and risk that physical resources historically bring. This abstraction means that a single server is no more special to an application than another; which means I can move, change, add, remove, or make a host of operational changes without risk. The virtual machine is coupled with the service that needs it and therefore applies fewer boundaries.

With the release of VMware’s vSphere product, critical aspects have been added. This includes the extending of network control to the virtual machine with Cisco’s Nexus 1000v. Now, both management and security of this layer can follow standard process of governance and operational models.

And now with EMC’s new FAST and the deployment models around the V-Max unit, the approach to storage is following the same design principles. If my data workloads are no longer bound to physical boundaries then I can deploy, react, and manage with less risk and more efficiency. I can focus higher expense storage at specific business needs when they need them and maintain cost effective use with lower cost storage on workloads that are diminishing. This translates directly into higher efficiency and lower total cost. Better yet, with approaches like NPIV, virtual machines can be matched to security, quality of service, and metrics. These features extend management, service-levels, and security on the storage layer to the virtual machine as well. Storage abstraction is the last great milestone to the virtual machine becoming the foundation of a data center. EMC is making a huge investment in both technology and people to make this a reality.

Despite the “coolness” factor in abstraction, the one important benefit is simple. Virtualization of servers, storage, networking, and ultimately business functionality brings efficiency. With vSphere I can take a set of CapEx impacting infrastructure and achieve higher utilization, less operational management, and be faster to market with features. To the business, this translates into a competitive advantage that can be measured. Because this hardware can be incrementally grown (EMC V-Max, vSphere), I can horizontally scale with growth demands and bring agility to change as well. And with new models like the VCE vBlocks even the large and complex standup cost in time/effort can be drastically reduced.

In the end only the goal of making people and business more successful is important. The abstraction that virtualization brings opens possibilities where they have not existed before.

As always, comments and criticism  are welcomed.

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