A Little Historical Perspective on Virtualization

By Doug Rollins - 2015-04-27

We often hear about old trends making a comeback—like stretch pants from the 80s or your favorite “oldies” tune remixed into a new “pop” song. Sometimes the new version is better—and sometimes, we wish it had never reemerged.

I’ve seen a few welcome comebacks in the technology industry lately—one example being virtualization, which reminds me of my days in the school “computer room,” toiling away on computers with centralized resources. To show you how I’ve seen centralized computing come full circle since then, let me take you on a brief tour of some of my own computing experiences over the years:      

  • Mainframe Computing – “Virtualization” Before Its Time: Most of computing as we know it comes from the age of the mainframe (while plenty of innovation came from big iron computing, I’ll save that discussion for another day). I was much younger at the time, working in the computer room at school hacking out Pascal programs on VT100 terminal text screens. The programs would help me find out things like how high a dropped ball would bounce (though, it was more fun to just climb up on the library roof and determine the answer empirically), along with other incredibly useful facts. Late on Sunday a night, all of us would be sitting in that one big room—with the aroma of pizza in the air—sharing centralized resources (CPU cycles and memory).
  • Decentralized Computing Equaled Localized Power: Not much later, we all moved on to decentralized computing.  We had more local CPU cycles than we could count, much less use!  We had local DRAM that wasn’t shared, and we had it all to ourselves to use as we pleased.  Sure, we still had some centralized functions, but those were typically purpose-built and designed to perform only a few tasks (file sharing, emailing, etc.).
  • Pumped-Up Decentralized Computing: While we were enjoying our new-found power and independence, hardware designers and platform vendors kept going: more CPU cores with more cycles in each core, more and faster memory, as well as larger and much faster local storage.  Our desktop systems were better, faster, and stronger.  And the “back room” servers saw even more advances—more cores, cycles, and bandwidth in smaller packages that used less power. It eventually got to the point where we had a tough time figuring out how to use all the “more” that had become standard in our newest platforms.
  • Modern-Day Virtualization to the Rescue: Eventually the fog lifted, and key leaders in the industry figured out how to take better advantage of the CPU cores and cycles, the memory, and the storage. They figured out that with all these resources available, a single application running as fast as users demanded wasn’t taxing the host, so they proposed running two, three, or more applications on the same physical hardware. The result is pure brilliance—and it’s now known as virtualization.  

With contemporary virtualization solutions, we have the best of both worlds—a way to both easily and practically use all those resources. Our companies had bought them, so it made no sense to let them sit idle just because one application didn’t drive them. Leaving those resources as-is was expensive, inefficient, and wasteful.

Virtualization Options Galore

Today, we have our choice of not only what workloads to virtualize—but how. Leading software companies, as well as a few startups, offer virtualization layers called hypervisors. Each is different enough to bear consideration, but all are similar in their common goal—letting us to do more with less:

  • Virtualize desktop systems as well as infrastructure.
  • Build fault tolerance into our applications. 
  • Build out virtual machines as we need them, discard them when we are done—and do it all from one interface.

Maximizing Virtualization With SSDs

At Micron, we recognize that flash-based storage can have a dramatic impact on virtualization solutions. We spend a lot of time benchmarking our own solid state drives (SSDs) against various virtualization applications, as well as tuning and optimizing them for that given environment. Visit our Virtualized Environments solutions page to learn more.

Let me know if there’s something specific you’re interested in learning about related to Micron’s SSDs and virtualization. You can connect with me on twitter @GreyHairStorage or through our main storage handle @MicronStorage.

Doug Rollins

Doug Rollins

Doug Rollins is a principal technical marketing engineer for Micron's Storage Business Unit, with a focus on enterprise solid-state drives. He’s an inventor, author, public speaker and photographer. Follow Doug on Twitter: @GreyHairStorage.