Virtualization: More Than a Hardware & Software Stack

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You may have seen Kevin’s recent posts (1, 2) on hardware virtualization. This technology allows multiple virtual machines, each running a separate operating system(OS), to run simultaneously on shared hardware. A growing number of customers are realizing increased scalability, consolidation, security, and high availability by running a virtual datacenter. I want to discuss what Dell does in this area and why it is important for us to deliver validated virtualization solutions rather than merely providing virtualization software installed on our servers to customers.

One of the more popular enterprise-class virtualization offerings is VMware ESX Server. Leaner than a conventional OS, ESX’s lightweight kernel efficiently allocates hardware resources to virtual machines. Guest OS’s run on top of this kernel with minimal overhead.

Since ESX allocates hardware resources at the bare metal layer, it requires specific support for all system components—including processors, chipsets, network cards, host-bus adapters, storage, backup, operating systems and systems management software. Installing ESX Server on an uncertified solution will almost certainly yield issues involving any number of these components.

Many aspects of virtualization software have complex compatibility requirements. One example is ESX’s VMotion feature, which migrates running virtual machines between servers with zero downtime. VMotion functionality depends on both the model and stepping of the servers’ processors. We define and test combinations of system components and provide support information to our customers.

At Dell, we engineer virtualization solutions. Our engineering team works closely with software partners such as VMware, starting very early on in the development and release cycle of the virtualization code. This technical collaboration ensures that the virtualization software runs efficiently on our systems without problems. We define an integrated set of hardware and software options, including Dell’s OpenManage suite. The entire solution is put through a rigorous test and validation cycle. Our efforts culminate in a validated factory-delivered solution. Our customers receive everything needed for deployment, including hardware, software, licenses, documentation, systems management integration, and support services. To find out more, visit Dell’s virtualization website.

About the Author: Reza Rooholamini

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