Cloud Benefits In-HouseThe cloud's the hot thing and not without reason. For some it can mean cost savings and the cloud embraces several important technical advances that improve performance and security.
But not everyone can trust their systems and critical customer data to a third party's administration. Even most large organizations adopting public cloud usage are doing so using a hybrid architecture where much, if not most of their infrastructure remains in-house.
And you can bring many of those technical advances in-house to your own systems. Among these are virtualization of server applications, virtualization of storage and the adoption of a service model for server applications.
Virtualization is the most central characteristic of cloud computing. It allows you to use one server box to run several virtual machines, each running its own server. It's rare that modern server systems, particularly those running tasks like file and print serving, come close to utilizing all CPU capacity. In the meantime, you paid for all of the capacity, including the part you never use.
At the heart of virtualization is the "hypervisor," a program which runs on a server and which loads and manages "virtual machines" running other operating systems. Each of these VMs thinks it has a computer to itself. Hand-in-hand with CPU or platform virtualization go storage and network virtualization. Storage virtualization means a system gets what it thinks is a device, but it may not be. It may be part of the local hard drive managed by the hypervisor or it may be a collection of blocks on a SAN (Storage Area Network). A virtualized network is one which is simulated in software. When you run multiple VMs on a single system, the hypervisor creates a virtual network for them to communicate with each other and with the outside world. In very large enterprises virtual networks have gone further with a technique called SDN (Software-Defined Networking). Physical networks are reduced to very fast, simple switches and all the networking logic is in software.
The benefits of all this virtualization are many. They start with more efficient use of hardware. Your systems become much more scalable; if you need a server to do something, it's just a matter of running a program. When you're done with it you can save the VM to disk for use again later or just throw it away. You can buy far less disk storage than you did when every server was a physical thing, and if a server only needs storage temporarily, allocating it from the pool and releasing it later is a simple, automatable process.
But virtualization also facilitates security. When everything is under software management, security software is in a position to protect against more than in a physical setup, often without interfering software running on the virtual system.
None of this affects your applications or even management software, including Synametrics products. You still need to manage your SQL servers, move files around between servers and sites and back them up, manage your clients and other remote systems and send emails. In a virtualized environment these programs just run on virtual servers, but they run the same.
The number of "platform virtualization" programs is quite large, but a few lead the pack: VMWare has a family of products and is used in the largest of enterprises. Microsoft's Hyper-V runs only on Windows Server, but can run Windows Server, Windows clients and Linux as guest operating systems. The Xen (pronounced "Zen") project is also a very important platform. It is an open source project, but backed by Citrix, which also sells enterprise versions of the software. Xen is popular as a basis for other hypervisors including Oracle VM.
It takes a fairly large network and sophisticated administration to justify SDN. SAN is also a relatively expensive investment meant for larger networks. As with all computer technology, expect cost of these to drop and the market reach to grow over time. But virtual servers running VMWare or a similar program are a useful tool for smaller networks.