BURLINGAME, CA – Jon Peddie Research, a small San Francisco bay area firm best known for their expertise in computer graphics technology, put on their first all day event, and the computer industry’s first ever virtualized computing conference, I am told.
What is Virtualization?
The term virtualization is being used to describe a “virtualized” workstation, where a workstation as we know it, a high-end personal computer used for engineering applications, is replaced with a cheap computer, with almost all of its capability transferred to a server. The server can be set up anywhere, but ideally it would be in a data center environment. The engineer is left with essentially a terminal connected to the server, keyboard, mouse and a screen or two, if they are lucky. The computing, graphic processing and storage will happen on the server. The server is a specialized computer, usually mounted on a rack in a cabinet which it may share with several other servers, is visually unimpressive. The thinner ones, called "blades," may be only a couple of inches high, with very little going on their front panel and have no input or output devices attached. But it can be enormously powerful. Servers are designed to run unattended nearly forever, be ultra reliable, are loaded with fast processors and have capacious, multiple hard drives, often in a RAID configuration. Handling the workloads of two or three workstations is nothing for them. In fact, there was talk of one server handling 24 AutoCAD users simultaneously.
Why Virtualize? The Argument for Virtualization
Separating the user from the computer does have its technical problems --not all of them worked out yet -- and several advantages.
The main advantage of virtualization seems to be that a engineering company could take control of its computers. The people in charge of procuring and maintaining the computers as well as the applications running on them constitute your company's IT department. They've never really felt comfortable with the idea of all the power being in the hands of the engineer but have begrudgingly put up with it for a couple of decades. It was hard to fight the personal computers that swept on to the workplace in the late 80's. IT's role dropped from the technical heart of the company, the company showpiece behind glass walls, a compulsory stop on VIP visits, to managing the network.
IT wants their vaunted status back. And here’s why.
Having centralized computing makes backups easier.
It’s more secure. No viruses from USB drives plugged into users' PCs. No downloads of company IP sold to a competitor.
Heard for the first time, but almost in chorus at the Virtualize Conference, were the health benefits. Your workstation actually makes a lot of noise with all those fans. And the heat. Did you know each workstation is a few hundred watts? As your computer got more powerful, it’s louder and hotter. Now you have to turn up your air conditioning. IT staff to the rescue. Why don’t you let us take those noisy, hot monsters out from under your desks? We’ll keep them in a special room where they won’t hurt anyone.
Access to the server would let an engineer leave his desk, work from another desk, from the field... or home (a possible disadvantage from the engineer's family point of view). And it allows the possibility of allowing engineering application to run any platform and on mobile devices, without having to rely on the software vendor to port their application. You can finally show the kids how cool you are on the iPad.
Back to the Future
Centralized computing has been around practically as long as computing itself. Called mainframes, they cost millions and were meticulously cared for and watched over. Users were allowed access only through terminals. Hundreds or thousands of terminals in Boeing and Detroit's big auto companies.
Boeing may have kept their hand in centralized computing longer than any of them, may be the last big company to let go of its centralized computing. Its last attempt to keep it’s computing centralized, which failed 20 years ago, is being hailed at the conference as the birthplace of virtualization.
Is it Time to Virtualize?
A survey by Jon Peddie Research does reveal that many would be interested in acquiring the benefits of virtualization. Though they may be unfamiliar with the term "virtualization," they are desirous of it's advantages, chief among them, the ability to work from anywhere and on any device.