It is now becoming common knowledge that cloud computing will fuel the ICT development of many African countries. The discussion of cloud computing comes with many new concepts, such as server consolidation and virtualization, that many may not yet be familiar with. In this article, we introduce the concept of virtualization and why African ICT managers should embrace it.
Virtualization originally meant software and firmware code that allowed computers to run multiple jobs at once, and, following the success of products such as VMware’s virtualization of x86 hardware, has now grown to include not just servers, but whole new areas of IT.
From its origins in a paper presented on time-shared computers at the 1959 Unesco Information Processing Conference, companies such as IBM and General Electric emerged as virtualization pioneers in the early 1960s to tackle various computing problems.
For example, in data centers the need to provide separate applications with their own unique physical server quickly used up floor or rack space. The growing size and number of data centers that businesses needed threatened to create a crisis.
It was solved by using virtualization techniques that allowed multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical server as if each were a separate piece of hardware. The trend of ‘server sprawl’ was reversed, resulting in cost savings for the companies that operated them.
There are also advantages for system administrators, such as being able to quickly add more virtual machines without needing to buy extra servers. This also eliminates the time delay in obtaining new servers, which in some organizations can be considerable.
Virtualization also results in more efficient resource utilization. Without it, a server might use less than five percent of its CPU or memory capacity, such as when running an application only in the evenings. Virtualizing the application allows that virtual machine to run on the same server as others that utilize its resources during the rest of the day. The server’s memory and CPU resource utilization can be boosted to 80 percent continuously, using virtualization technology from companies such as VMware.
Virtualization can also result in greater reliability. For instance, VMware includes a feature called High Availability (HA), which comes into play when a server fails. It can automatically restart the virtual machines on other servers when it detects the original server is down. Other vendors offer similar features and benefits.
These are just a few of the advantages of virtualization, and the technology has many more to offer. Reduced equipment needs, more efficient use of that equipment, and greater application availability are just the start.