Software appliances and virtualization

Virtual machines (VM) can be used for more than consolidation. Software appliances can be used to package and deliver solutions on top of VMs. Gartner analyst Phillip Dawson said a server software appliance hides complexity beneath an application-specific management interface.

Delivered appliances can range from locked-down applications to preconfigured and preinstalled applications, as well as related middleware and management tools. Dawson said early server VM software appliances are mostly ready-to-run demos.

He said future appliances will move toward test/development scenarios that can be easily converted to production. Over the next 12 months Dawson said security standards will be developed and application vendors will test the waters by bundling applications and/or middleware on top of a hypervisor/OS combination.

Workspace virtualization

Workspace virtualization tools separate the user's working environment from the OS or any applications on the PC on which it executes. This allows users to run a corporate-managed workspace on a corporate or user-owned PC or Mac.

Gartner analyst Terrence Cosgrove said these tools allow the work space to execute on the local client.

This is different to hosted virtual desktops (HVD), which execute in the data centre.

Cosgrove said it allows users to have a secure, device-independent workspace, while leveraging local processing power and working offline.

He said the adoption of workspace virtualization tools was originally driven by organisations that wanted to separate workspaces to prevent data leakage.

"The technology has matured enough to support thousands of users," he said.

"These tools hold particular promise for mobile users who are connected intermittently to enterprise networks."

Cosgrove said these tools offer some of the management benefits of HVDs without the necessary infrastructure build out. They are suitable for a wide range of users including employee-owned PC users, remote users connecting over slow links, contractors, knowledge workers and mobile users.

"This technology offers potentially high benefits due to its ability to support user-owned IT initiatives and the separation of user and corporate workspaces," Cosgrove said.

Capacity planning and management tools

Capacity planning tools help plan for optimal performance of business processes based on planned variations of demand. These tools are designed to assist IT organisations achieve performance goals and planning budgets without the overprovisioning of infrastructure or excessive off-premises capacity.

While physical infrastructure and component focused capacity planning tools have been available for a while, Gartner analyst Milind Govekar said products that can support a dynamic environment are yet to mature.

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In the past 12 months Govekar said there has been a lot of interest in these tools as they are increasingly used for consolidation activities as well as related planning for virtual and Cloud infrastructures.

"These tools have historically come with high price tags and long learning curves due to their complexity, leading to additional costs for trained personnel," he said.

"However, some of these products have evolved to the point where their use can be performed competently and with little human intervention."

Govekar said capacity planning and management is becoming critical due to the increase in shared infrastructures. "These tools are successfully implemented by organizations that have high IT service management maturity and a dedicated performance management group," he added.

DMZ virtualization

This is the use of virtualization in the enterprise demilitarized zone (DMZ), typically for cost savings through the consolidation of physical servers and storage.

Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald said as organizations virtualize more of their data centres they are turning their attention to higher risk scenarios, such as virtualizing servers and storage in the enterprise DMZ.

"However, these workloads represent some of the riskiest workloads in the enterprise so virtualization should be considered carefully and be phased in over several years," he said.

MacDonald expects this to become a mainstream practice within five years. As a foundation, he said organizations need to ensure vulnerability, configuration and patch management processes are top notch. He also favoured the use of embedded, reduced footprint hypervisor platforms in the DMZ with root of trust measurements to detect tampering.

MacDonald said users should take a three phase approach.

He said as a first phase, consolidate workloads of similar trust levels within the DMZ onto physical platforms.

As a second phase, workloads of different trust levels may be combined onto the same physical server platform.

"But use existing physical network separation and security policy enforcement points to maintain separation," he said.

In the third phase, MacDonald said users should consider the use of virtualized firewalls and IPS systems.

Server hardware assisted virtualization

This category of hypervisors is microprocessor-enabled or embedded within the silicon. This allows virtualization software to run directly on server hardware with hardware assistance.

Additional processor and platform hardware creates a logical space in which the hypervisor can be run, and provides instructional-level support for faster virtual machine operation and virtual input/output (I/O).

Gartner analyst, Andrew Butler, said this technology enables manageability and functional enhancements to the server platform without disturbing operating system images.

"Although hosted server virtualization software is well-developed, it is complex and not very user friendly for widespread use in general purpose system designs," Butler said.

"We expect Intel or AMD to introduce embedded virtualization instructions in their x86 server microprocessors by next year. Non-x86 vendors such as IBM and Oracle could make similar moves."

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Now that multicore and multithread server platforms are mainstream, Butler said there is greater opportunity for true, hardware-embedded hypervisors to evolve.

The business impact of this technology includes improved performance around I/O virtualization and converged networks. Butler said it will also provide superior resilience, better horizontal scalability, portability and manageability.

PC virtual software appliances

A PC virtual software appliance runs in a dedicated PC partition or on a virtual machine that loads before any user OS, and provides a single application or function without the complexity of a full operating system.

By adopting an appliance approach, enterprises can deliver individual functions (such as firewalls or media players) as separate modules that run alongside, rather than on top, the standard PC OS.

Gartner analyst, Federica Troni, said PC virtual software appliances will accelerate product innovation cycles for suppliers and will result in faster load times for users.

"They will become a PC development platform alongside OS integration as a focus of the PC industry's R&D efforts for targeted security and management functions," he said.

"However, broad mainstream implementation will require a client hypervisor standard which is still emerging." For now, Troni said, users should consider tactical implementations.

He believes PC virtual software appliances will play a key role in changing the relationship between the PC OS and hardware by allowing management and security functions that operate at the platform level to be unbundled from the OS.

"This will be particularly critical where PC hardware is used to support multiple Oss simultaneously," Troni said. PC virtual software appliances are unlikely to be supported directly by the Windows desktop OS before 2013.

Virtual machine recovery

VM recovery focuses on protecting and recovering data from VMs, as opposed to the physical server or nonvirtualized systems.

These recovery solutions help recover from problems such as user or administrator error, accidental deletion or overwriting of a file, viruses, disk failures and site loss. Gartner analyst Dave Russell believes these solutions will see strong market adoption in the midsize enterprise segment.

"This is a nascent but fast growing market so users should continually re-evaluate their options especially if investing in a point solution," he said. "VM recovery will become necessary to ensure timely access to data and continuation of business operations."

Russell said traditional backup vendors are improving their VM recovery capabilities in order to compete with pure-play VM providers. He said most traditional backup applications can install their agents in VMs, which may be acceptable in a small deployment. But more advanced backup is required for large deployments.

"Snapshot, replication and data reduction techniques, and deeper integration with the hypervisor provider should also be viewed as important capabilities," Russell said.