Call it the virtual cloud: Using virtualization software, government agencies, schools and private enterprises are building “private clouds” inside their own data centers to maximize efficiencies, ensure continuity and build a smooth path to the future.
Lew Smith, who manages the virtualization solutions practice for tech consulting firm Interphase Systems, says small to midsize businesses were among the first to adopt virtualization because it was a much more cost-effective way of achieving “five nines” (99.999 percent) availability, as well as enhancing their ability to recover quickly if disaster strikes. Now, he says, even large companies are jumping in.
“The big companies all dipped a toe into virtualization with pilots and preproduction environments, but it took some time for them to feel comfortable” he says. “Now many of the companies that were hesitant are coming back and asking, ‘What else can we virtualize?’”
Now small companies can take a lesson from the big guys’ playbooks on the latest uses of virtualization, he says.
Take IBM , for example. Big Blue has built a cloud for the 125,000 employees in its Technology Adoption Program (TAP) using its own Power VM software and VMware vSphere  running on approximately 300 IBM Power Systems and x86 machines.
A private cloud makes a great fit for TAP in several ways, says Peter Guasti, director of IBM’s data center in Southbury, Conn. For one, it fits neatly into IBM’s green computing initiative, thanks to the energy savings that virtualization brings. Fewer physical servers mean lower electricity and cooling needs.
Virtualization also offers speed and flexibility that are simply not possible in a purely physical environment, especially when you’re serving people in locations around the globe.
“When you have a large community of early adopters, you need to be able to quickly get innovative technology into the company’s infrastructure,” says Guasti. “That’s where heavily virtualized environments and cloud computing come into play. You could be an IBM innovator sitting anywhere in the world, and you might need to request a server for three to six months to host a solution you’re testing and get feedback. Virtualization allows us to quickly provision and de-provision these machines as needed.”
This kind of flexibility is one of the great appeals of private and public clouds, says Anthony Velente, co-author of Cloud Computing: A Practical Approach.
“Companies with geographically dispersed resources and high-availability requirements have and will continue to leverage ‘private cloud’ solutions,” he says. “And what we will see more of in the future will be strategically designed solutions comprised of a blend of private and public clouds. A retailer, for example, could run on their own cloud from mid-January until November, and then fold in additional computing power via a public cloud for their peak sales season, when they need a bump in computing power.”
Chicago publishing giant RR Donnelly has been moving toward a total virtualized environment for the past year, says solutions architect Mike Lasowski. The main drivers? Reliability and availability.
“We want 99.999 percent uptime, for both ourselves and the clients we host,” he says. “VMware was the smart choice for that because of its high fault tolerance.”
Lasowski estimates they’re already about 45 percent of the way there, with more than 1,000 virtual machines running on approximately 100 VMware ESX servers.
“The goal was to have 100 virtual machines by the end of the first year, but we’re well past 1,000,” he says. “We’ve gone further and faster than anyone expected.