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Virtualization be damned: Power-efficient servers best bet for some

(Bridget Botelho, News Writer) While many IT pros use virtualization to avert server sprawl and keep power costs low, others lack the resources to or resist going virtual because of performance overhead, however low it may be.

One such company is London-based Last.fm Ltd., a large and fast-growing social networking and free music-sharing website. The company uses open source OpenVZ virtualization in its testing and development environment but has said no way to production-level virtualization.

"Virtualization helps from a manageability perspective, but we've been running diskless servers for years that boot off a central image, which makes it easier to manage groups of machines doing the same task without virtualization," said Richard Jones, CTO and co-founder of Last.fm. [Plus], "virtualization wasn't as accessible or efficient when we started doing this."
Instead, the company Net-boots; its Web server, load balancer and Hadoop boxes. "That means we have over 200 machines all booting off a pair of machines hosting three custom Linux distro [distribution] images," Jones said. "Doesn't get much easier than that."

If it ain't broke, don't fix it
In addition to being satisfied with current operations, the performance latency of virtualization - however low - is intolerable; many of Last.fm's applications are CPU-heavy and Jones doesn't want to introduce any performance overhead. The performance overhead with virtualization is low, though. When using hardware with virtualization-assist technology, such as AMD's Opteron with Rapid Virtualization Indexing, performance overhead is often less than 5%, according to a VMware engineer.

Given that this percentage comes from a virtualization vendor, it may be a little rosier than reality. "But even if it is a 90% performance comparison, all the benefits of virtualization make it worthwhile," said Andi Mann, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). "Things like DR [disaster recovery] capabilities, higher server utilization, workload migration capabilities, increased flexibility and agility and being able to reuse physical resources."

Which is why most of the IT pros with whom Mann speaks use virtualization at some level, and more people have moved virtualization into production now that performance is getting stronger - but not everyone is sold on it.

According to Forrester Research, 54% of enterprises and 53% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have implemented x86 server virtualization or will do so within the next 12 months; and while that is a lot, it still leaves 46% of enterprises and 47% of SMBs that haven't virtualized.

 
 
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