Where virtualization sits in my datacenter

I had a fairly major revelation during VMworld.  Its not something that I had stopped to think about and I guess the week of sessions and discussions helped me assemble several random thoughts together.  

First, I’ve always relegated virutalization to a status where it is certainly a valuable technology and integral part of HTC’s datacenter strategy, but there is a trade-off where you have over-head and lose some performance.  I realize that the trade-off is very small, but understand that our datacenter has one farm of dual-core servers – our VMware farm.  

Second, I realized that our processors are just out pacing the computing needs of our current generation of software.  Much of this can be blamed on Microsoft’s inability to keep their server OS up to snuff, in my opinion.  But these two concepts never seemed to co-exist in my mind, until VMworld.  

One keynote talked briefly about how ESX is optimized for multi-core and how it makes efficient use of gobs of memory.  And, I’ve got two blade centers with blades that meet that description collecting dust as we try and figure out what to run on them.  So, why at this point am I hesitant to put Exchange, SQL Server and other ‘high-impact’ applications on a virtual platform?  I know that Windows Server 2003 can’t use all the memory or multi-cores.    It wasn’t architected to.  

We’re not making the move into Windows 2008 at this point, partially because of the Vista effect (our company is also swearing off Vista upgrades and sticking with our trusty XP).   And I guess that’s a third point.  Windows 2003 is just good enough for our busines. We’re comfortable with that OS, what it provides us and supporting it.   I know that Windows Server 2008 has some improvements to handle the additional hardware, but I’m still hearing it doesn’t do an efficient job of it.  But when you combine the complacency with Server 2003, XP and the ability to squeeze more performance out of the hardware by applying ESX, I think we have a winning combination.  

In our datacenter, we run multiple instance of Microsoft SQL Server in virtual and we have very good results from this.  I’m also facing a migration of Exchange onto a quad-core blade with 8Gb of RAM and thinking that’s way too much hardware for what our Exchange is doing.  And that thought is a major turn – because never in my past 8 years working with Exchange have I wanted LESS hardware for a server.  

And Exchange 2007’s architectual changes really has decentralized the whole Exchange “server” concept into multiple pieces which use many small servers for redundancy.  That defeats the big server, multi-core, gobs of memory hardware idea that all of Microsoft’s hardware partners are pushing, except with virtualization.  

So, at today’s crossroads, I’m dropping a lot of my resistence to keeping certain applications physical.  And that’s a big shift in my mentality.  There is too much horsepower to waste on an operating system which really can’t take advantage of it.  What do you think?

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Philip is a IT solutions engineer working for AmWINS Group, Inc., an insurance brokerage firm in Charlotte, NC. With a focus on data center technologies, he has built a career helping his customers and his employers deploy better IT solutions to solve their problems. Philip holds certifications in VMware and Microsoft technologies and he is a technical jack of all trades that is passionate about IT infrastructure and all things Apple. He's a part-time blogger and author here at Techazine.com.

One Response to “Where virtualization sits in my datacenter”

  1. Resistance is futile….
    I tend to agree… if anything, these are all clustered servers, one possible middle-ground solution is to have one node remain physical, and virtualize the other cluster node.

    October 10, 2008 at 11:11 am Reply

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