Ask any 5 people what virtualization is and you’ll get five different answers. By the way, ask those same people what the definition of cloud computing is and you’ll get back 4 different answers and 1 blank stare. Virtualization refers to; operating systems, applications, networking, storage, security, I/O, Memory, CPU, and more. It encompasses major hardware vendors (Cisco, Juniper, Brocade), Chip Vendors (IBM, SUN, Intel, and AMD), giant software vendors (Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, Sun, HP, and Symantec), OSS projects (KVM, Xen, and VirtualBox), and start-ups like Xsigo, RingCube, MokaFive, and Pano Logic.
In fact, every time I read the aforementioned list I am tempted to add additional categories and companies to the list. Since the epic rise of VMware, we are experiencing a rate of commoditization of the hypervisor. While VMware is the “defacto standard” of x86 virtualization, you still have choices; Red Hat, Citrix, VirtualIron, Oracle, Microsoft, KVM, IBM, and more. To complicate matters, I have only focused on one area of virtualization and there are many others left to explore.
Once quick note, virtualization is not new to the networking world. Has anyone heard of VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks)? How about Virtual Firewalls? Even the vaunted Terabit Router can now be virtualized across the largest backbones in the world using technology from Cisco and Juniper. My have we come so far since the early days of networking and the introduction of TCP/IP and Ethernet.
For cloud computing to become a reality, we can’t simply draw a basic architecture with a box labeled virtualization. Cloud computing depends on all aspects of virtualization to be flexible, elastic, and scalable. Is x86 virtualization the right platform? Is storage virtualization ready? Does x86 virtualization introduce as many challenges as it solves? What role does standardization play within virtualization? Who owns the hypervisor? Shouldn’t virtualization be in the chip?
Finally, the wild card in this discussion is consolidation. What are the ramifications if Cisco buys EMC? Is Dell the odd server vendor out? What is IBM planning? What is HP really building? How will the application vendors respond; SAP, Oracle, Adobe, Red Hat? Uncertain economic conditions breed opportunity for M&A activity as well as disruptive start-ups that are in stealth mode.