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Open source virtualisation – worth the wait

By   |  May 27, 2009

Open source may have had a late start in the realm of enterprise virtualisation, but the meticulous and attentive development of this technology has led to better products in the long run. Not only is open source virtualisation now fully enterprise-ready, but it offers greater cost-savings and more flexibility that its proprietary counterparts.

What is virtualisation?
Virtualisation allows you to run multiple operating systems within a single physical machine. Traditionally, your firewall and mail server, for example, would be run on their own dedicated physical servers. However, with today’s processing power being as powerful and cheap as it is, some machines run at no more than about 10% utilisation, ultimately making the machines run at a waste of capacity.

Aside from this, the physical space needed to house these machines can be overwhelming, especially for smaller companies with limited space. Furthermore, the actual electricity used to run all these separate machines as well as their cooling, can be very expensive and demanding on corporate infrastructure.

With South African electricity limitations and power instability making such a negative impact on business, the idea of virtualisation is very attractive one. Virtualisation makes better use of your hardware, saves electricity costs, space and decreases your carbon footprint at the same time.

Virtualisation also provides increased availability and does not require any downtime. Many companies use a single operating system to install multiple applications on. This can cause all the applications to crash if one of them becomes unstable.

With virtualisation, there is a single physical machine with multiple contained operating systems each housing an application. This means that if one of the applications were to suddenly crash, none of the others will be affected.

Furthermore, if your mail server needs to be updated or your firewall has to undergo routine maintenance, the other applications and processes can still run as normal, and no downtime has to be experienced. This means that all business processes can enjoy a seamless and uninterrupted flow at any time of the day.

The open source benefit
With open source virtualisation, you can do pretty much anything you can do with commercial products, but with added advantages.

The nature of the open source community means that there are hundreds of eyes that are continually assessing existing programs and bug-fixing is done properly within minimal time. Open source products are improved on an ongoing basis, providing outstanding quality from the start. The large number of developers working on open source virtualisation has not only allowed it to successfully catch up with proprietary virtualisation, but it is now surpassing it in features and performance – and all of this is available at a lesser cost.

A possible drawback of using proprietary virtualisation is that the virtual machines could be stored in a format that is not compatible with other software. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to switch to another virtualisation technology in the future. Virtualisation is currently a very innovative and competitive market, and vendor-lock in should be avoided.

Open source virtualisation is undoubtedly a technology that has proven itself. Not only do a healthy number of our customers currently run successful virtual environments, but we are using it ourselves and getting very good performance out of less hardware.

Virtualisation as a concept has far too many advantages to be ignored, especially in economic times when operational costs are being cut dramatically. Add the open source benefits that come with non-proprietary products, and the cost-saving alone make a very compelling argument.

Fred Strauss is technical manager at enterprise open source specialist Obsidian Systems.


11 Responses to “Open source virtualisation – worth the wait”

  1. Jonathan Carter
    May 27th, 2009 @ 10:26 am

    What is this supposed to be? Some kind of weak advertorial?

  2. Alastair Otter
    May 27th, 2009 @ 10:38 am

    Yes. For open source virtualisation 😉

    Tectonic has a number of guest writers. Fred is one of them that I run approximately once a month. Guest writers contribute articles for free and anyone is welcome to propose an article. There you have it in a nutshell, J.


  3. Kin
    May 27th, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    Interested in knowing what open source virtualisation programs you talk about.

    What do you consider to be the best one?


  4. Mr O
    May 27th, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    Also would be interested in some specifics. Right now we are just on the cusp of getting into this. Using VMware server on 1 system to host a virtual 2003 domain controller and I am myself using Virtualbox on windows and linux hosts in a test lab environment. Cheap dual core workstations with abundant memory are great for this.

    I do not know if VB is suited for enterprise use or not, however, which is why some exposition on the subject would be grand

  5. CMD
    May 28th, 2009 @ 5:52 am

    Virtualbox – awesome, quick and free and has similar features to the paid for VMWare Workstation.

  6. Fred Strauss
    May 28th, 2009 @ 9:46 am

    Thanks for the comments.
    To address some of the specifics. For enterprise virtualisation we currently use Xen, which has very good performance for para-virtualised Linux guests, but not that great for fully-virtualised guests. KVM will be available in RHEL 5.4, probably due around September, which gives very good performance for full virtualisation. Fedora, CentOS and most other distros have KVM already.

  7. Kris Buytaert
    May 28th, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

    What wait ? And where did you get the crazy idea that Open Source was the Late comer in Virtualization ?

    Open Source has been leading the pack,
    Apart from Bochs, Qemu and other being the base of different other technologies, even the recent innovations such as Paravirtualization and VT support were pioneered by the Open Source platforms and the proprietary ones were lagging behind severly ..
    points out that even VMWare was late on the boat ..

  8. Fred Strauss
    May 29th, 2009 @ 8:20 am

    The key here is enterprise. Open source virtualisation has most certainly been ahead of the pack in what it can do technically, but in areas like support and management of VMs proprietory has been ahead, but that’s changing now. Most enterprise virtualisation solutions have been proprietory up until now, but we now have quite a few customers using enterprise virtualisation in production. A year or so ago that wasn’t the case, or not as much at least.

  9. OStatic Buffer Overflow… | google android os blog
    May 30th, 2009 @ 6:05 am

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  10. David Fraser
    June 2nd, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    For server virtualization the features may be equivalent. I’d love to be able to replace VMWare Workstation with a free software equivalent for managing virtual machines for testing and development; I haven’t found any with the equivalent snapshotting ability that lets you efficiently make a tree with branching snapshots.

  11. CMD
    June 12th, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    I’m pretty sure Virtualbox has the same snapshot features as VMware Workstation. You could also use VMware server which is free.

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