19th December 2006

Technology- Virtualization

The power came back on late Sunday night- what a relief. All that I can say is that having the power off
was miserable. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be for people who still don’t have power now that
the work week has started. At least we didn’t run out of laundry and were able to go to the gym for a hot

It is pretty incredibly how poor the information availability was during the past week. Back at the 2003 PDC
we did all kinds of demos of cool visualizations for situation-rooms and emergency response centers. But we never
mentioned anything about helping provide information to people so they can find out what is going on. I’m sure
there are kinds of social issues involved with providing more detailed information (why is that block prioritized ahead
of mine?) but it still seems like we could do much better.

With my server running nicely in its rack in the datacenter, I thought I’d mention how great of a change
it is to have modern virtualization technology. This is one of those things that took a bit to sink in. It was pretty
clear right away why it was cool to have virtual memory and preemptive multi-tasking back a couple of decades ago. But
when I can run all my apps at once nicely in one OS, why would I care about running more than one OS?

But with just 1U of space in the datacenter, the flexibility that virtualization gives me is just really amazing.
The machine I got can easily expand to more than 10GB ram, 8 cores of CPUs, and 3TB of disks space. Those upgrades
are all much easier than buying an extra hardware box. And eventually I’m sure I will buy an extra piece of hardware
for redundancy. But in the meantime I can setup the services I’m building, deploy them on their own virtual
machines, and they are all easy to manage. System updates used to be scary for a server when you don’t have physical
access, since if the machine didn’t reboot right, you weren’t there to reset it. Now if I need to reset a “machine”
I just log into the host machine and go to its console.

Once I have a second server, I don’t need to do any complicated reconfiguration. I can just move some of the
VM configurations to the new box, and start them up. I didn’t even have to shut-down my app servers to bring
the physical hardware to the data center- they were all suspended, and once I booted up the host they were all
able to just resume. I could be wrong but it looks like reboot times might be much easier to manage and
much quicker with this setup too.

This stuff is going to be industry-changing for sure. Its already taking off quite a bit, but its clear
that within a couple of years its going to be ubiquitous. On the other hand, Microsoft’s current licensing schemes seem
like they are going to be a serious problem. Just dealing with product activation already puts Windows Server
at a huge disadvantage in this kind of world where its trivially easy to just clone a Linux machine image
but Windows Server puts me through many more hoops to get it to work. Microsoft is going to have to figure
out how to charge (and not gouge) for this stuff without being too much of a nightmare for the administrator.
If they don’t their already precarious position in the server space is going to collapse.

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